New technologies to reduce chemical exposure to personnel and the environment during fracturing operations are at the forefront of research and development efforts. Unconventional reservoir developments require large amounts of fresh water, sometimes up to 5 million gal to complete a well, leading to difficulty in water sourcing in remote locations or regions where droughts are persistent. Several new areas currently under consideration for shale exploration are in environmentally sensitive locations, making the water sourcing for fracturing operations even more critical. Freshwater use needs to be minimized, and a careful examination of current practices should be undertaken to reduce, eliminate, and recycle chemicals wherever possible. Furthermore, fracturing fluids essential for successful stimulation treatment should be comprised of chemicals adhering to environmentally acceptable standards.
Recent developments have allowed one operator to minimize freshwater usage through recycling of their flowback and produced water using electrocoagulation (EC) technology. EC is a water-treatment process that removes colloidal solids through methods of coagulation, electroflotation, and settling. Unlike conventional water-treatment practices, such as reverse osmosis or distillation, EC generates relatively small quantities of waste, while leaving dissolved solids in the water. To ensure enough water was available for fracturing stimulation treatment, fresh make-up water was also used. This freshwater source was treated for bacteria using an ultraviolet (UV) trailer, which minimized the need for biocide on location. In addition, dry-blending technology was used to hydrate the gel without the aid of mineral oils. All of these processes were used to reduce the environmental impact on location.
With increasing public scrutiny and concern over the practice of hydraulic fracturing in environmentally sensitive locations, fluid systems need to follow strict environmental guidelines. A new fluid system was developed with components from the US Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 (CFR 21), or the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) affirmation process. While setting a high precedence by adhering to this environmental benchmark, the fluid performance was not compromised.