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He knows a lot more about chemicals than I do … I thought you’d enjoy reading his perusal of what’s in the fracking cocktail. I WILL add that the one that everyone gets worked up about is benzene. I will also add that released methane is not harmful to humans only to global warming. There is a team of scientists driving around PA right now detecting methane concentrations across the state and then using radio-isotopes to identify the likely sources of those emissions. Finally, remember that fracking has always been intended to be banned, it’s just the justification for banning it from time to time must change. I myself am almost surely exposing my children to more danger than any fracking site by (1) choosing to drive a fuel efficient Mazda 3 and (2) buying a home that sits about 150 yards from a major highway – I am SURE the truck emissions alone make the air quality at my home worse than what happens at a fracking site. But I digress:

From the Newsday article: (http://www.newsday.com/opinion/andrew-cuomo-makes-the-right-call-on-fracking-lane-filler-1.9724052)

“Seriously, it’s difficult to picture my grandkids in the year 2064 saying, “Man, I sure am glad they decided to shoot millions of gallons of water and nasty chemicals the drilling companies refused to identify into the earth 50 years ago to extract natural gas.””

Does the author know that fracking was introduced in the late 40’s and “massive” fracking started in the late 60’s? These are things I know and I haven’t dug too far into the fracking issue. The author doesn’t need his grandkids, he can have a 50-year opinion on it himself. It doesn’t seem to be too informed of an opinion, however.

New York Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/opinion/gov-cuomo-makes-sense-on-fracking.html

“Acting health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, told a meeting of the governor’s cabinet that “the science isn’t there” to say definitively whether hydraulic fracturing is safe or not. But judging from the overall weight of evidence, Dr. Zucker advised against going forward. “Would I live in a community with (hydraulic fracturing) based on the facts that I have now?” he said at one point. “Would I let my child play in a school field nearby?” After looking at the questions raised in numerous reports, he said, “my answer is no.” Mr. Cuomo found Mr. Zucker’s personal response particularly impressive.”

The science isn’t settled, but lets ban it because I don’t want my kids near it. So he didn’t give a reason for the ban other than saying, “I don’t know”. I’m fine with him saying “I don’t know” but I don’t take that as a reason for an outright ban. This is what comes from the preeminent expert on fracking in NY State?

Anyway, I’ll grant him his argument. So perusing wikipedia and here are the common additives to fracking fluid* (my additions are in parenthesis at the end of each):

Acids—hydrochloric acid or acetic acid is used in the pre-fracturing stage for cleaning the perforations and initiating fissure in the near-wellbore rock.(Hydrochloric acid is used in disinfectants and cleaning toilet bowls because it dissolves the rust. Acetic acid is the major component of vinegar and gives it it’s smell.)

Sodium chloride (salt)—delays breakdown of gel polymer chains.(I don’t think you need my input on this one).

Polyacrylamide and other friction reducers decrease turbulence in fluid flow and pipe friction, thus allowing the pumps to pump at a higher rate without having greater pressure on the surface.(I didn’t know this one! But I did find out is used to manufacture soft contact lenses)

Ethylene glycol—prevents formation of scale deposits in the pipe. (Used in your typical antifreeze. Slowly being replaced by polyethylene glycol and others because ethylene glycol is toxic. But remember, toxicity depends on dose.)

Borate salts—used for maintaining fluid viscosity during the temperature increase. (This is Borax!)

Sodium and potassium carbonates—used for maintaining effectiveness of crosslinkers.(I hope you don’t wash your clothes!)

Glutaraldehyde—used as disinfectant of the water (bacteria elimination) (Used to disinfect medical equipment. Disinfecting medical equipment is a a higher class of disinfectants, deemed safer. Don’t use bleach to disinfectant your scalpel.)

Guar gum and other water-soluble gelling agents—increases viscosity of the fracturing fluid to deliver proppant into the formation more efficiently.(Don’t brush your teeth either!)

Citric acid—used for corrosion prevention. (Watch out for soda! They may actually be a good idea, but that’s up to you. Also used in a ton of household cleaners, shampoos, handsoaps.)

Isopropanol—increases the viscosity of the fracture fluid.(Have you sanitized your hands? Yeah, you have directly put this on you.)

There are tons of other uses besides just the ones there, but I think it would be a nice start to ban all those activities. I can’t have my kids in a house or a school or a car until we “know”! Also for reference, any disinfectant is directly approved by the EPA and any hand sanitizer has to comply with FDA monographs.

*Yes, I know there are plenty of other chemicals used in fracking fluid, but I’ve never heard any fracking activist explain which ones they are actually talking about and why they are bad. They usually just scream about “CHEMICALS” in a general, terrified tone. The farthest I’ve seen them go on a knowledge level is saying “known carcinogens”. I will grant them that, however, I can call coffee (classified as 2b in the IARC monographs) a carcinogen. So again, what are we talking about?

4 Responses to “Sherlock, from the Comments …”

  1. Harry says:

    Great work, Sherlock.

    There is a lot of hazardous stuff coming up from a gas well long after the drilling fluid has been recycled and disposed of, and depending on the contents of the well, are bigger or smaller problems that in all cases can and should be dealt with. It is my understanding that wells in the Marcellus are so-called dry gas wells that do not have the same degree of problems as, for example, wells in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, with which I have more than a passing familiarity.

    The first is H2S, a very corrosive gas which will kill you swiftly. H2S is removed in the gathering field and burned. The second is what the petroleum engineers call liquids and the pipelines call “drip”, including benzene which WC correctly calls hazardous, and other hydrocarbons that can be corrosive and lethal when not handled properly. I knew a fellow who used to fuel his single-engine airplane, which he sometimes landed on country roads, on drip.

    Drip is valuable enough to steal, and in the oil patch there are bandits who own fuel tanker trucks who go around tapping into unsecured drip tanks. Legitimate refiners buy it to separate and use the components in fuel and refining catalysts, and it is sold to chemical companies for a wide range of consumer and manufacturing processes.

    In any event, pipeline companies want to get rid of any component of natural gas, including H2S and drip before it gets to the giant compressors that propel the natural gas through the main pipeline. Throughout the pipeline system there is a constant battle to detect and prevent corrosion, and the companies I knew had dedicated departments to that task.

    Now, what flows through those pipelines is methane, CH4, but there is also propane, butane, and other methane-like gas. Not far from where I live is a company that built a plant near a main pipeline to extract specialty gasses which they sell to specialty users.

    Also, where pipelines intersect with roads, one can see what appear to be big optic-orange candy canes. Pipeline companies routinely use detectors to sniff for pipeline leaks. They used to use two-engine airplanes and helicopters to inspect the high-pressure lines for anomalies including backhoes, although I expect some companies use drones for the job. During the Winter, the vegetation along the pipeline is greener, just as the heated Green Bay Packer grass is greener. This means absorption of the deadly CO2 gas. Arnold Schwarznegger did the same thing by planting trees. It’s about time somebody does something.

    So Governor Cuomo’s scientific advisors have told him they have not proved the safety of fracking, and therefore he should ban it, because you never know what might happen. The pipeline will burst and rise from the earth like a flaming dragon.

  2. Alex says:

    Sherlock writes: “But remember, toxicity depends on dose.” Yet he mentions nothing about the dosage of any of the chemicals he lists. I believe it’s on the fracking opponents to prove fracking is harmful, but if we want to raise the level of debate, Sherlock could do more than just peruse wikipedia. He also doesn’t mention the “worst” of them, like benzene, lead, uranium, radium, and formaldehyde.

    You write: “I will also add that released methane is not harmful to humans only to global warming”…but isn’t a MAJOR premise of global warming that it is harmful to humans? You say nothing about amount of damage to global warming from released method, so how can you say it’s not harmful to humans?

    Great link, though!

    • wintercow20 says:

      I can assure you Sherlock is not wikipedia’ing this stuff, he works in industry.

      As for the dosage, indeed it would be incumbent upon us/people to show actual exposures – we know them to be quite, quite, low.

      As for methane exposures, the comment surely refers to the direct health impacts of methane and not any indirect impacts from increasing radiative forcings. A simple back of the envelope would do: for example, each ton of methane emitted is modeled to contribute $XX of global warming damages, and ____ much methane is thought to be released from the fracking process itself. This is good marginal thinking by the way. A weasely comment that would not address the marginal impact of methane emissions is to compare how much natural methane is released to what is released from fracking, which is not even in the rounding error for how much is emitted, from, say, swamps around the globe.

  3. Harry says:

    Methane oxidizes to produce H2O and CO2, perfect combustion. Whatever methane produced from cow flops, etc. does not present a hazard, unless one considers water and carbon dioxide toxic pollutants. This does not mean that cow flops are not good for Persian carpets in the dining room. Methane is odorless.

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