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Producer Group Discloses Hydrofracing Additives

Responding to heightened concerns on Capitol Hill about the chemical make-up of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) fluids, the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA) has released what it calls a "representative sample" of the additive ingredients that are used in hydrofracing fluids. The disclosure may head off attempts to regulate hydrofracing at the federal level.

Water and sand make up 99% of hydraulic fracturing fluids, according to the NGSA, which represents oil and natural gas producers. The other 1% includes the following additives: 0.007% Crosslinker (also found in soap, laundry detergent); 0.09% friction reducer (also in water treatment, candy, make-up remover); 0.09% surfactant (seen in glass cleaner, antiperspirant, hair color); 0.12% diluted acid (household cleaner, swimming pool cleaner); 0.06% gelling agent (toothpaste, baking goods, ice cream, sauces and cosmetics); 0.04% scale inhibitor (household cleaner, deicing agent); 0.004% iron control (food additive, lemon juice, flavoring in food and beverages); 0.002% corrosion inhibitor (pharmaceuticals, plastics); 0.01% breaker (hair cosmetics, household plastics); 0.06% KCI (low sodium table salt substitute); 0.0001% biocide (disinfectant, used to sterilize medical equipment); and 0.01% pH adjusting agent (detergents, washing soda, water softener and soap).

This is the "representative" sample of the additives, but "each company has a different recipe" for their hydrofracing fluids, said NGSA spokeswoman Daphne Magnuson. "They may use some of these ingredients but not all of them" in their fluids (see related story).

"We want to take some of the mystery out of the process" in light of the efforts on Capitol Hill to regulate hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (SDWA), Magnuson said. The release of the list of hydrofracing ingredients "has been very well received" by some members of Congress, she noted, but she declined to name lawmakers.

The disclosure of the additives "is a positive development that may help the industry avert inappropriate regulatory restrictions on fracturing," said analyst Ed Garlich of Washington Research Group.

The issue of whether to federally regulate hydrofracing has risen to the forefront because of the technique's widespread use in producing shale gas, which is fast becoming a "big part of the U.S. resource base," Magnuson noted.

Hydrofracing involves the injection of fluids into wells at extremely high pressures to crack underground formations and stimulate the flow of oil and gas. More than 90% of oil and gas wells in the United States employ hydrofracing.

In June Senate and House Democrats introduced bills to repeal the 2005 exemption from the SDWA for hydrofracing. The bills also would require oil and natural gas producers to disclose to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the chemicals they use in their hydrofracing processes (see NGI, June 15). The House in late June also voted out a spending bill that calls on the EPA to study the risks of hydrofracing to the nation's drinking water (see NGI, June 29).

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 clarified that hydrofracing was not intended to be regulated under the SDWA, which seeks to protect the public water supply from toxic contamination. The oil and gas industry is the only industry exempted from the SDWA.

Producers contend that hydrofracing does not harm public drinking water and that stripping them of this exemption would stunt natural gas production, particularly from shale gas plays. Repealing the exemption for hydrofracing could add incremental initial costs of more than $100,000 per well for unconventional natural gas, according to energy analysts for FBR Capital Markets.

With much of the attention of Congress expected to be focused on climate change and health care when lawmakers return in September, the odds are low that lawmakers will repeal the SDWA exemption for hydrofracing this year, said analysts Benjamin Salisbury, Rehan Rashid and Robert MacKenzie of Arlington, VA-based FBR last month (see NGI, July 20).

"After extensive conversations with policymakers and industry sources, we believe that there is a much lower-than-expected likelihood that Congress will take action to curtail hydraulic fracturing in the next year and a half. In our view, there is a less than 35% probability that Congress will repeal the Safe Drinking Water Act exemption for hydraulic fracturing by the end of 2010," they noted.

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