Group To Examine Potential Health Effects From Producing Unconventional Resources
- Adam Wilson (JPT Special Publications Editor)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- August 2014
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 128 - 132
- 2014. Society of Petroleum Engineers
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- 43 since 2007
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This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper SPE 168518, "Collaborative Industry Initiative To Assess Potential Health Effects Related to the Production of Unconventional Resources," by D.J. Devlin, ExxonMobil; P. Beatty and R.D. White, American Petroleum Institute; Z. Naufal, Chevron; and S.S. Sarang, Shell, prepared for the 2014 SPE International Conference on Health, Safety, and Environment, Long Beach, California, USA, 17-19 March. The paper has not been peer reviewed.
Unconventional resources offer many substantial benefits, yet the rapid increase in production of these resources using hydraulic fracturing has generated scrutiny by some policymakers and advocates who cite health concerns. The Exploration and Production Health Issues Group was recently formed to provide research, scientific analysis, and guidance on health issues regarding unconventional-resource production (URP). The group is particularly focused on community health concerns, including those associated with the compositions of hydraulic-fracturing fluid and flowback, effects on aquifers, air emissions, and psychosocial stress related to operations.
Opinion polls have found that community residents are most concerned about the possibility of drinking-water contamination from hydraulic fracturing. The idea that fracturing fluids of unknown composition are pumped underground through groundwater is the cause of that concern. A key issue for the industry to address is communicating the full nature of this risk while maintaining the confidentiality of proprietary chemicals used. The composition of fracturing fluids is the intellectual property of companies that develop the wellsite. The skill required to identify the right fluid composition for particular fracturing operations is what keeps those companies in business. But the need to protect some portion of fluid compositions as confidential business information (CBI) has been exploited by some opposed to URP to spread fear about unknown toxic chemicals and the harm they may cause.
To address this challenge, the Groundwater Protection Council, an organization of state regulators, created Frac- Focus. FracFocus is a Web-based chemical disclosure registry where the nonconfidential chemicals used in fracturing for a particular wellsite are posted for public viewing. In many states, the use of Frac- Focus to disclose nonconfidential chemicals is mandatory. Some segments of the URP industry believe that additional steps must be taken to develop criteria to assess the suitability of a chemical for use in URP from the perspective of health, safety, and environmental effects, and they have been working to develop criteria and a user-friendly tool to implement those criteria in URP operations. While some chemicals will continue to be identified as CBI under existing regulations and policy, operators and service companies would apply the established criteria of suitability for hydraulic fracturing. The objective is to encourage continued development of new and improved fracturing fluids while maintaining the intellectual-property protections of the companies that develop them and enhancing public confidence that protection of health and the environment is integrated into the selection of chemicals.
The balance between the legitimate need to keep certain information confidential and the processes by which compositional information is provided to experts on a need-to-know basis should be communicated better to the public to help build and maintain trust.
Potential Health Effects
The Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine held a workshop on the Health Impact Assessment of Shale Gas Extraction in May 2012. The workshop brought together a range of experts from the natural-gas industry, regulatory agencies, and fields of environmental monitoring and occupational and community health. A key premise for the workshop was the recognition that shale-gas extraction is an emerging technology and that it will continue to be important in the years to come. Consequently, the environmental health community needs to begin to understand potential related health effects. Furthermore, the community should adopt an approach that recognizes that the role of the health community is not to decide whether or where the nation should use shale-gas extraction but rather to discuss potential health effects, to which individuals are more vulnerable, and how any proven effects can be mitigated.
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