What’s all this about propane fracking?

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From Ron Bishop, 4/11/2010:

“A few “eco-friendly” fracturing schemes are out and about, but they all come with some* issues.”

“Propane is a gas at ordinary pressures, but can be fairly easily liquefied with pressure.  It is, of course, a fossil fuel itself.  Using propane would get around using millions of gallons of water, but would not deal with some real technological challenges.  First, in order to suspend sand or other proppants, liquid propane needs to be thickened, typically by foaming agents like peroxide.  Using peroxide requires the addition of even more corrosion inhibitors than when water is used, and biocides are still required to control microbe growth.  (I’ve heard misinformation that fracking with propane requires no chemical additives; that’s just not true.)

“The use of propane introduces new problems with controlling a pressurized liquid that quickly turns to a gas when the pressure is released.  It’s not easy or cheap, and a lot of gas escapes into the atmosphere.  This is a greenhouse gas, though not as potent as carbon dioxide (another [so-called] “green” fracking fluid candidate) or methane.

“And none of these exotic “fluids under pressure” help with the toxicity of the deep brines that still flow out of gas well bores.  These brines continue to be among the greatest waste problems faced by the industry.”

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Some further observations:

  • The only benefit of propane fracking would be the apparent elimination of water usage for the hydraulic fracturing phase of well development.
  • Water would still be required for parts of the drilling phase.
  • Frequently, one of the key problems caused by gas extraction, groundwater  contamination, takes place during the drilling phase, prior to fracking.  There are multiple opportunities for groundwater contamination to occur during the drilling phase, starting with the very first stage, which necessarily takes place with no casing in place yet as the lengths of casing can only be inserted as sections of the borehole are drilled out.
  • Regardless of the method used to complete (or ‘frack’) a well, the overall footprint of industrial impacts on the landscape, and on future options for land use, remain the same:  the same number of pipeyards/chemical storage sites, access roads, well pads, compressor stations, pipelines, and gas processing units.

So:

merely reducing the amount of water hauled to the site for fracking
would leave in place most of the major problems
associated with petro-methane extraction.

Keep your eye on the big picture, New York:
hydro (i.e. water) fracking is only one of many ways
petro-methane extraction can ruin us.

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*Ron specializes in understatement.

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