The current practice for hydraulic fracturing treatments of shale gas reservoirs is
to apply a sequenced pumping event in which millions of gallons of water-based fracturing fluids
mixed with proppant materials and thickening agents are pumped in a controlled and monitored manner into the target
shale formation above fracture pressure .
Hydraulic Fracturing Additives
The fracturing fluids used for gas shale stimulations consist primarily of water but also include a
variety of additives. The number of chemical additives used in a typical fracture treatment varies
depending 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 ).
Friction Reducing (Slickwater) Additives
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
proppant to be pumped to the target zone at a higher rate and reduced pressure than if water alone
Other Additives and Proppants
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 .
These fluids are used not only to create the fractures in the formation but also to carry a propping
agent (often silica sand or sintered bauxite) which is deposited in the induced fractures.
The make-up of fracturing
fluid varies from one geologic basin or formation to another. A list of potential additives is given
in Table 1 . Evaluating the relative volumes of the
components of a fracturing fluid reveals the relatively small volume of additives that are present.
Overall the concentration of additives in most slickwater fracturing fluids is a relatively
consistent 0.5% to 2% with water making up 98% to 99.5%.
Fracturing Fluids Vary from One Play to Another
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. It is not uncommon for some
fracturing recipes to omit some compound categories
if their properties are not required for the specific application.
Most industrial processes use chemicals and almost any chemical can be hazardous in large enough
quantities or if not handled properly. Even chemicals that go into our food or drinking water can be
hazardous. For example, drinking water treatment plants use large quantities of chlorine.
When used and handled properly, it is safe for workers and near-by residents and provides clean,
safe drinking water for the community.
Although the risk is low, the potential exists for unplanned
releases that could have serious effects on human health and the environment. By the same token,
hydraulic fracturing uses a number of chemical additives that could be hazardous, but are safe
when properly handled according to requirements and long-standing industry practices. In
addition, many of these additives are common chemicals which people regularly encounter in
Dilution and Neutralization of Additives
Table 1 provides a summary of the additives, their main compounds, the reason the additive is
used in a hydraulic fracturing fluid, and some of the other common uses for these compounds.
Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is the single largest liquid component used in a fracturing fluid aside from
water; while the concentration of the acid may vary, a 15% HCl mix is a typical concentration. A
15% HCl mix is composed of 85% water and 15% acid, therefore, the volume of acid is diluted by
85% with water in its stock solution before it is pumped into the formation during a fracturing
Once the entire stage of fracturing fluid has been injected, the total volume of acid in an
example fracturing fluid from the Fayetteville shale was 0.123%, which indicates the fluid had been
diluted by a factor of 122 times before it is pumped into the formation. The concentration of this
acid will only continue to be diluted as it is further dispersed in additional volumes of water that
may be present in the subsurface. Furthermore, if this acid comes into contact with carbonate
minerals in the subsurface, it would be neutralized by chemical reaction with the carbonate
minerals producing water and carbon dioxide as a byproduct of the reaction.
Find it on Geology.com
More from Geology.com
100+ Gems - Photos of over 100 beautiful gems ranging from the popular to the obscure.
Geologist Tools: Visit our store for a large selection of field and laboratory tools.
What Is The Moho? Learn about the interior of the Earth and the Mohorovicic Discontinuity.
Labradorite: A feldspar that produces bright flashes of iridescent colors.
A wide variety of chemical additives are used in hydraulic fracturing fluids. They include: dilute acids, biocides, breakers, corrosion inhibitors, crosslinkers, friction reducers, gels, potassium chloride, oxygen scavengers, pH adjusting agents, scale inhibitors and surfactants. These chemical additives typically might make up just 1/2 to 2 percent of the fluid. The remaining 98 to 99 1/2 percent of the fluid is water. Proppants such as sand, aluminum shot or ceramic beads are frequently injected to hold fractures open after the pressure treatment is completed.
This video illustrates the equipment, materials and procedures used in the hydraulic fracturing process. It applies to the use of hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling in the development of a natural gas well in an organic-rich shale. It was prepared by Chesapeake Energy.
 Harper, J. 2008. The Marcellus Shale - An Old "New" Gas Reservoir in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Geology. v 28, no 1. Spring 2008. Published by the Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
 Modified from: Arthur, J.D., B. Bohm, and M. Layne. 2008. ALL Consulting. Hydraulic Fracturing Considerations for Natural Gas Wells of the Marcellus Shale. Presented at the GWPC Annual Forum in Cincinnati, OH. September 2008.
 U.S. Department of Energy, (2009). Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer. Work Performed Under DE-FG26-04NT15455. Prepared by The Ground Water Protection Council and ALL Consulting.
Food additive, flavoring in food and beverages; Lemon Juice ~7% Citric Acid
Creates a brine carrier fluid
Low sodium table salt substitute
Removes oxygen from the water to protect the pipe from corrosion
Cosmetics, food and beverage processing, water treatment
pH Adjusting Agent
Sodium or potassium carbonate
Maintains the effectiveness of other components, such as crosslinkers
Washing soda, detergents, soap, water softener, glass and ceramics
Silica, quartz sand
Allows the fractures to remain open so the gas can escape
Drinking water filtration, play sand, concrete, brick mortar
Prevents scale deposits in the pipe
Automotive antifreeze, household cleansers, and deicing agent
Used to increase the viscosity of the fracture fluid
Glass cleaner, antiperspirant, and hair color
Note: The specific compounds used in a given fracturing operation will vary depending on company preference,
source water quality and site-specific characteristics of the target formation. The compounds shown above are
representative of the major compounds used in hydraulic fracturing of gas shales.