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Ways to clean up chemicals from the environment

Richard Liroff Friday, September 21, 2012 - 5: The public fears known chemicals such as acids and biocides that are toxic as well as the unknown chemicals hidden behind claims of confidential business information. There's a possibility that these concerns could also lead to increased numbers of bans and moratoria both in the United States and around the globe. Oil and gas producers have made sizeable strides in disclosing many of the chemicals.

  • In most cases, it is financially or physically impractical to completely remove all traces of contamination;
  • Programs such as Superfund in the United States, as well as parallel state programs, represent a commitment of billions of dollars to the cleanup of contaminated sites;
  • MNA is employed for the cleanup of organic contaminants such as petroleum hydrocarbons in situations where the longer time frame associated with MNA does not increase the risks posed by the contamination;
  • Many "brownfields" were created when manufacturing plants or military bases closed or moved;
  • First, and most importantly, do producers have systems in place to evaluate whether they are using more toxic chemicals than necessary?

But three major questions remain substantially unaddressed: First, and most importantly, do producers have systems in place to evaluate whether they are using more toxic chemicals than necessary? Second, what are producers doing to encourage their suppliers to provide safer alternatives? Third, what tools can suppliers use to develop and market safer alternatives? The economic benefits from smarter management of chemicals include lower costs when fewer chemicals are used, reduced environmental damage and litigation risk from operating errors and accidents.

The oil and gas industry understandably downplays the hazards from fracturing chemicals.

Responder Tools

It stresses they are a very small percentage of the fluids going down the bore hole — approximately 1 percent or less— and these chemicals are commonly found in household products. This rationale ignores scale and life cycle. Millions of gallons of fluid mainly water are used for fracturing, so for a single well thousands of gallons of chemicals will be hauled to the job site and stored on location -- then pumped down the hole. For example, a fracturing operation using three million gallons of water would likely use 15,000 - 30,000 gallons of chemicals.

Multiply this by thousands of wells drilled in major shale plays and you'll get the picture. Some of these fluids will return to the surface and require storage, treatment and disposal. The greatest contamination risks appear to stem from spills on the surface and from poorly constructed wells.

  1. By studying the existing conditions, substances that microbes need to break down chemicals, such as nutrients or oxygen, may be added to enhance biodegradation.
  2. One of the most popular approaches to removing NAPLs is thermal treatment. Encana prohibits the use of any hydraulic fracturing fluid products containing diesel, 2-Butoxyethanol 2-BE or benzene and has determined that none of its fracturing products contain arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead or mercury.
  3. Possible environmental contamination can affect re-use of abandoned or unused sites. Evaluating experimental toxicity data and then extrapolating to potential exposure scenarios forms the basis for such decisions.

Develop a chemical reduction program. Relatively few shale energy producers publicly describe their programs for reducing and eliminating worrisome chemicals.

For example, Encana has established a Responsible Products Program. Through its Responsible Product Assessment Tool that taps government toxicity databases, Encana assesses chemicals and decides whether to eliminate them or reduce their risks. Encana prohibits the use of any hydraulic fracturing fluid products containing diesel, 2-Butoxyethanol 2-BE or benzene and has determined that none of its fracturing products contain arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead or mercury.

Chesapeake states it eliminated 25 percent of the additives used in fracking fluids in most of its shale plays. They should dedicate staff or consultants to continually evaluate chemical additive use and, in requests for proposals and other procurements, should ask their contractors to provide reduced toxicity options. Producing companies should routinely report the results of such efforts publicly. Create a chemical scoring system.

Scientists Find a Natural Way to Clean Up Oil Spills, With a Plant-Based Molecule

There's money to be made from safer chemical alternatives. Oilfield services company Baker Hughes has developed a toxicity scoring system and new product lines so that producing companies can select less-toxic additives to meet their needs. Similarly, Halliburton has also developed a toxicity scoring system and new product lines.

Halliburton even presents on its website a cumulative tally of gallons of biocide eliminated through use of its CleanStream process that relies on ultraviolet light for bacteria control.

Baker Hughes, one of the primary providers of hydraulic fracturing services to oil and gas producers in the United States, has demonstrated how a scoring system can be used to drive competition among chemical suppliers to provide safer alternatives.

It has placed the highest priority on eliminating diesel oil from its fracturing additives. In 2011, it reported successfully forgoing the use of at least 7. By doing so, it has also removed benzene and some other toxic components of diesel oil. Press suppliers for alternatives. Napthalene, one of these, was present in a 100,000-gallon-per-month product used by Baker Hughes.

  1. One supplier removed the 2-BE but a second went even farther and also removed toxic methanol, dropping the toxicity score much farther. DNAPLs such as chlorinated solvents—trichloroethylene TCE and perchloroethylene PCE —are found also in urban and industrial areas, most commonly in association with the dry cleaning industry, where previous management practices often resulted in the spilling or dumping of these chemicals.
  2. It has placed the highest priority on eliminating diesel oil from its fracturing additives.
  3. An initial reformulation dropped the toxicity score by more than 50 percent and displaced 85 percent of the old product in the marketplace. Passive Cleanup Passive remediation technologies are increasingly common in some applications, and take advantage of naturally occurring chemical or biological processes that degrade contaminants to less toxic forms.

The company encouraged its chemical suppliers to develop safer alternatives. An initial reformulation dropped the toxicity score by more than 50 percent and displaced 85 percent of the old product in the marketplace.

Baker Hughes asked two suppliers to remove 2-BE from a surfactant product.

5 ways to clean up fracking

One supplier removed the 2-BE but a second went even farther and also removed toxic methanol, dropping the toxicity score much farther. Oil and gas producers point to the website fracfocus.

How does NOAA help clean up oil and chemical spills?

Fracfocus is a noteworthy improvement on the virtually nonexistent disclosure of several years ago, but it reveals chemical use only on a well-by-well basis and provides no readily discernible information on broader corporate toxicity reduction programs. The limitations and omissions of these data sheets have been noted by Baker Hughes and other commentators. Increasingly, states that are adopting Fracfocus as a disclosure tool are requiring information on non-MSDS chemicals to be listed. Regardless of whether states require it, more companies should be doing such reporting of non-MSDS chemicals.

SCJ provides an example of how companies might better demonstrate to concerned communities their commitment to chemical risk reduction.

Basic Information about Cleanups

SCJ's Greenlist process ranks the materials in its products based on their impact on the environment and human health, rating materials from a 0 "restricted use" to a 3 "best".

The detailed scoring criteria are elaborated in a superb SC Johnson case study [pdf] prepared for the Green Chemistry and Commerce Council. The goal for individual products and the company as a whole is continual innovation away from the poorest-rated materials towards the best. Shale gas and oil development is a far more diverse and dynamic market than the consumer market served by SCJ, so developing a toxicity reduction tracking system will be a far greater challenge.

Notwithstanding this difficulty, if oil and gas producers and their fracking contractors can report such quantitative results, they would clearly demonstrate how they are implementing a toxicity reduction policy.