Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hydraulic Fracturing, or "Fracking," Colorado Legislative Council Publication

Number 11-8 A Legislative Council Publication July 25, 2011

by Lauren Ris

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a method
used by oil and gas operators to increase or open up
production on wells that would otherwise be
inaccessible. Oil and gas operators now use fracturing
on most wells in Colorado. Critics, however, express
concerns about the safety of this practice and its
potential impacts on groundwater and air quality. This
issue brief explains the fracturing process, federal and
state regulations, and an Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) study of its risks.


Fracturing process. Hydraulic fracturing involves
pumping a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into
wells under high pressure to crack open tight
formations, thereby facilitating the flow of gas and oil
to the surface. The chemicals maximize the water
pressure, opening up cracks in the geologic formation.
Sand in the water keeps these cracks from collapsing
and allows the gas to flow to the surface.
When the process is finished, most of the fluid is
removed from the well lines, but some remains. The
remaining fluid is either dumped into a lined, open pit
to evaporate, is reinjected underground, or is trucked to
a disposal site.

Fracturing materials. Fracturing fluids are
primarily a mix of water and sand (99.5 percent). The
remaining 0.5 percent is comprised of chemicals and
lubricants, the exact recipes of which are proprietary
information held by the oil and gas companies and are
not made public.

According to the Ground Water Protection
Council, a nonprofit comprised of state regulatory
agencies, a typical fracture treatment will use low
concentrations of 3 to 12 additive chemicals,
depending on the formation being fractured. Each
component serves a specific purpose. For example,
water-based fracturing fluids mixed with
friction-reducing additives, called slickwater, allow
fracturing fluids and sand to be pumped to the target
zone at a higher rate than if water alone were used.
Biocides prevent microorganism growth, while oxygen
scavengers, and other stabilizers prevent corrosion of
metal pipes, and acids remove drilling and mud damage
within the near-wellbore area. The website is a joint project of the Ground

Chemical inventories
Public health and safety rules
Drinking water protection rules
Regulations and  Laws
Review of COGCC rules
Federal Law
Safe Drinking Water Act
EPA study

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