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Environmental Services Newsletter

Battelle Focuses Analytical Capabilities on Fracking Fluids

As the oil & gas industry increases its use of hydraulic fracturing and enhanced oil recovery (EOR), it is facing complex questions related to the use of fluids in development activities:

  • How do these fluids move through the environment, how do they break down, and where do they end up?
  • How can developers be certain whether or not soil or groundwater contamination is attributed to their operations?
  • Which chemical mixtures are most effective for specific applications?

Battelle is refocusing analytical capabilities honed for detergent analysis to assist the oil & gas industry with environmental monitoring, forensics and risk management as well as new product development.

Fluids used for fracking and EOR are complex mixtures that may contain dozens of discreet chemicals and elements. These chemicals are added to water to modify the properties of the liquids to make them more effective. For example, fracking fluids contain surfactants to reduce the surface tension between water and oil to allow the fluid to flow more smoothly and solvents to make it easier to penetrate the rock. They may also contain gelling agents to change the viscosity, biocides to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, anti-corrosive agents to protect pipelines and drilling equipment, antifreeze compounds and stabilizers.

Many of these chemicals are also used by the detergent industry for laundry soap, automatic dishwasher detergent and other household cleaners. Battelle has extensive experience in chemical analysis and characterization of detergents, cleaners and personal care items. For more than 20 years, the Battelle World Detergent Program has analyzed hundreds of commercial products annually to track formulation trends in the detergent industry. Battelle also brings deep expertise in hydrocarbon forensics, using sophisticated analytical methods to produce distinct “fingerprints” of hydrocarbon samples for accurate source identification.

The Battelle analytical team is now focusing those same methods on fracking and EOR fluids used by the oil & gas industry. Using methods developed for the detergent industry, analysts can determine the precise chemical makeup of a fluid sample. This chemical fingerprint can be used for accurate source attribution, much as hydrocarbon fingerprints are used for forensic purposes to determine the origin of an accidental release. Accurate source attribution is critical to help the industry control risks and liabilities. For example, it will allow companies to determine whether solvents found in groundwater come from their own operations or are from another source. The analysis will also enable better tracking and monitoring of the fluids in the environment over time.

The detailed analysis provided by Battelle could also be used to characterize samples of different fluids used in the field to identify the attributes that are associated with higher performance. Accurately characterizing the fluids will help fracking fluid suppliers better control quality and adjust formulations for higher performance, lower cost or improved sustainability.