Chemical Use In Hydraulic Fracturing

Chemicals serve many functions in hydraulic fracturing.  From limiting the growth of bacteria to preventing corrosion of the well casing, chemicals are needed to insure that the fracturing job is effective and efficient.

The number of chemical additives used in a typical fracture treatment depends on the conditions of the specific well being fractured. A typical fracture treatment will use very low concentrations of between 3 and 12 additive chemicals, depending on the characteristics of the water and the shale formation being fractured. Each component serves a specific, engineered purpose. For example, the predominant fluids currently being used for fracture treatments in the gas shale plays are water‐based fracturing fluids mixed with friction‐reducing additives (called slickwater).  The addition of friction reducers allows fracturing fluids and sand, or other solid materials called proppants, to be pumped to the target zone at a higher rate and reduced pressure than if water alone were used. In addition to friction reducers, other additives include: biocides to prevent microorganism growth and to reduce biofouling of the fractures; oxygen scavengers and other stabilizers to prevent corrosion of metal pipes; and acids that are used to remove drilling mud damage within the near‐wellbore area.

Fluids are used  to create the fractures in the formation and to carry a propping agent (typically silica sand) which is deposited in the induced fractures to keep them from closing up. The chart below; which was prepared by ALL Consulting and is an updated version of the chart originally published in Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer, demonstrates the average volumetric percentages of additives used for hydraulic fracturing treatment over multiple oil and gas plays.

The make‐up of fracturing fluid varies from one geologic basin or formation to another.

Evaluating the relative volumes of the components of a fracturing fluid reveals the relatively small volume of additives that are present. The additives depicted on the right side of the pie chart represent less than 0.8% of the total fluid volume. Overall the concentration of additives in most slickwater fracturing fluids is a relatively consistent 0.5% to 2% with water making up 98% to 99.2%.

Because the make‐up of each fracturing fluid varies to meet the specific needs of each area, there is no one‐size‐fits‐all formula for the volumes for each additive. In classifying fracturing fluids and their additives it is important to realize that service companies that provide these additives have developed a number of compounds with similar functional properties to be used for the same purpose in different well environments. The difference between additive formulations may be as small as a change in concentration of a specific compound.

Although the hydraulic fracturing industry may have a number of compounds that can be used in a hydraulic fracturing fluid, any single fracturing job would only use a few of the available additives. For example, the chart shown above, represents 12 additives used, covering the range of possible functions that could be built into a fracturing fluid.


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Ground Water Protection Council Interstate Oil and Gas