Frack Off or Frack Active – time will tell
I was asked to write a piece on Remediation equipment and link it to ‘fracking’ – a topic guaranteed to raise a lot of hackles and one it would be exceedingly difficult not to take sides on! And, the more I thought about it the more challenging the task became. Put the two words together: remediation and fracking – and immediately the phrase: ‘closing the stable door after the horse has bolted’ springs to mind! That’s not to say we don’t have excellent remediation equipment to rent or buy. ATEX Certified Interface Meters, Total Fluids Pumps, Personal Protection Monitors, PIDs and Product Recovery Systems like Geosorb kits and Skimmers. However, to my mind, to talk about fracking fairly and in the context of moving forward we should link it to the phrase: prevention is better than cure. Of course you can take this literally as our friends from across the Channel have done. France’s constitutional court upheld a ban on fracking, ruling that the law banning the process is a valid means of protecting the environment. “It’s a judicial victory but also an environmental and political victory,” the French environment minister said after the verdict. “With this decision the ban on fracking is absolute.” Closer to home and mention the “f” word and you are sure to generate strong feelings on every side of the argument. Supporters say it could be the energy source that will give the UK independence from costly imports and secure our energy supply for years to come. On the opposite side of the argument those against the process cite the destruction of the environment, contamination of groundwater and the depletion of local water resources – to name but three! But fracking, or more correctly: hydraulic fracturing, is nothing new. First used experimentally in 1947 with the first commercially successful applications of hydraulic fracturing in 1949, it was the UK, in the North Sea oil and gas fields, where the process really gained momentum in the sixties. The technique did not attract real public
attention until its use was proposed for onshore shale gas wells in 2007 and 2008. Since that time in the UK, as in other countries - and in particular the United States, where the industry is most advanced and widespread, hydraulic fracturing has generated a large amount of controversy. The European Union has issued an approval for hydraulic fracturing under certain conditions as it recognises that it can be an economic boost but it emphasizes the need to carefully control and monitor the impacts of the process and not repeat the pollution incidents that have occurred in the US and widely used as examples and good reasons not to exploit this method of obtaining gas. The actual process of fracking involves drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. The mixture, made up of water, sand and chemicals, is injected into the rock at high pressure allowing the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The process can be carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally into the rock layer to create new pathways to release gas or can be used to extend existing channels. The environmental impact of fracking is well documented but for now let’s concentrate on water pollution. The fracking fluids used in the process may include proppants and other substances, including toxic chemicals. In the US these additives have been treated as trade secrets by some companies who use them and the lack of knowledge about specific chemicals has complicated efforts to develop risk management policies and to study health effects. In the UK we already have controls in place to ensure these chemicals are made public and they are required to be non-hazardous. No doubt the monitoring of these chemicals will be closely observed and regulated by the Environment Agency. Regular monitoring of the chemical pre-fracking will need to be made together with detailed analysis of the
waste water following the process. Our range of water quality meters, sondes and sensors from the stables of Xylem and INW are ideal to monitor a range of parameters like Temperature, pH, ORP, Dissolved Oxygen, Conductivity, Specific Conductance, Salinity, Total Dissolved Solids, Seawater Density, Total Suspended Solids, Ammonium, Chloride, Nitrate, Depth and Turbidity. These instruments can be used for spot monitoring or, linked to telemetry like vanwalt CONNECT for long term measurement of the water quality in and around fracking sites. Alarms can also be set to give an early warning if particular parameters exceed specified levels so preventative action can be taken before serious environmental damage occurs.
The other impact on water is the amount required in the process, particularly problematic in areas where there are shortages. Surface water may be contaminated through spillage and improperly built and maintained waste pits. Groundwater can be contaminated if fluid is able to escape during the process and there is the potential for methane to leak into aquifers. However, the UK’s regulatory framework around fracking is based on the conclusion that the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing are manageable if carried out under effective regulation and if operational best practices are implemented. Time will tell!
Tracey Daley, Van Walt Ltd
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