As both the need for energy and the concern over fracking increase, improvements in technology are making operations safer.
Concern 1: Preventing Groundwater Contamination
Precautions can be taken throughout the well drilling process to prevent hydrocarbons from leaching into the groundwater supply. One safety precaution is to encase the drilled well to separate it from the surrounding soil and groundwater. A cemented lining and steel casing is created at the surface, prior to drilling. When underground water is reached during vertical drilling, operations are stopped temporarily. The cement barrier and steel casing is installed down the hole, and then drilling resumes through the vertical run, the bend, and the horizontal run. More linings and casings are constructed as needed to maintain the integrity of the well bore and to protect neighboring groundwater. Navigational technology enables drillers to sense local conditions and avoid drilling a well through areas that pose a contamination risk.
Concern 2: Seismic Activity
This is another concern in fracking operations, from the actual fracturing of the shale bed as well as from the pressurized fluids pumped into the well during drilling. Advancements in sensor technology and pipe navigation enable drillers to better choose where to initiate fracking. Improvements in microfracture modeling and alternative methods of shale fracturing enable the highly efficient release of the pressurized shale beds with less force and energy. While seismic activity in hydraulic fracturing is unavoidable, technological advancements have meant significant reductions in vibrations.
Concern 3: The Disposal of Fracking Fluid Materials
Specifically, there is concern for wastewater with fracking chemicals, and potentially trace amounts of gas/oil inside. Chemical advancements continue to reduce the amount of proppant, biocide, inhibitors, and stabilizers used in fracking fluid to as little as 0.5% of the overall content. “Greener” alternatives are being developed for some of these chemicals, but all chemicals require proper removal and handling. Often, these fluids are recycled for use at the next site. Ultimate disposal is handled in water treatment facilities (where much of the water can be recovered) or in disposal wells, as regulated.
Concern 4: Air Quality and Emissions
These are often a concern because large diesel engines drive many of the operations. Air emissions at each site are required to meet federal, state, and local regulations, like at any other industrial location. Advancements in horizontal drilling for hydraulic fracturing have reduced the surface space needed for drilling. This has meant a significant reduction in emissions compared to traditional vertically drilled wells. Plus, more efficient engines and upgraded emissions output continue to drive emissions reduction technology. This helps to decrease emissions-per-volume levels of recovered fuel. Other improvements include reduced emissions from less traffic at the site, and reduced noise pollution and visual interferences by having only one derrick (rather than several) at a single drill site.
Overall, advancements in technology have resulted in more efficient and safer fracking than ever before. As with any industry, fracking is not immune to potential hazards. This is why it’s critical for proper regulations to be in place and strictly followed.
Did you know you’ve just read the third article in our four-part Fracking Series? Catch up with our first post, where we breakdown What is Fracking, Anyway? Then skip over to the next, featuring Today’s Current Technologies in the field. Keep the research going and check back or subscribe for a reminder — we’ll be wrapping up our Fracking Series soon by answering the controversial question, “Why Frack (in the First Place?)”