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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Caramel Dioxide: New Fracking Ingredient?

Caramel Dioxide: New Fracking Ingredient?

      Leave it to kindergarteners to come up with great new things. After our CO2 experiment a couple of weeks ago on Science Friday, one of the teachers left me this note about his observations at the sensory table:

 


     "Caramel dioxide" as a fracking ingredient does not seem all that far afield...Besides the standard water and "frac sand," fracking mixtures have been known to include corn husks, gelatin/jello (The topic of fracking or hydraulic fracturing has been described by fellow bloggers as akin to nailing jello to a tree.):







 

guar bean gum, benzene, naphthalene, hydrochloric acid, sodium chloride (my kindergarteners know that one), ammonium persulfate, formic acid, and quaternary ammonium chloride. (Benzene, in particular, has been linked to causing cancer). In fact, you may look up the ingredients used in the fracking fluid of over 55,000 wells here:

                            http://fracfocus.org/chemical-use/what-chemicals-are-used

     Well, well, well, I will back up to the definition of hydraulic fracturing or fracking first. If you haven't been under a rock for the past five years (pun intended again), you likely know that oil and gas companies use copious amounts of water, some sand as a proppant (to prop open pathways in the "permeability-challenged" rocks like shale)





and a mixture of chemicals used to thicken the water in order to suspend the sand in the water, eliminate bacteria in water that produces corrosive by products, and preventing corrosion of the pipe (among other things).

     The petroleum class I took in 1982 used A.I. Leverson's Petroleum Geology textbook from the 1960's. I recall still his description of petroleum geology as primarily the study of fluids. This is part of what concerns me greatly about fracking...the use of water in very large amounts to reap another fluid, especially one which is non-renewable.  Here in the arid west, where water is such a precious commodity. . .

      Petroleum Geology 101: Hydrocarbons are created in source rock (like shales), move to reservoir rock like sandstone and limestone) and are capped by impermeable cap or seal rocks:




     Note that fracking was originally used to open up permeability in sandstones and limestones (the reservoir rocks). The use of fracking to extract hydrocarbons directly from source rocks, such as shale, requires more water, sand, and chemicals under higher pressures. Fracking of shales since the 1990's is essentially hastening the movement of hydrocarbons out of source rocks without waiting for them to move to reservoir rocks (with their higher porosities and permeabilities).

       The overarching argument about fracking does distill to whether it is worth the resources and potential chemical contamination to extract hydrocarbons. In the short-term, perhaps it is, especially if it replaces coal extraction. Overall, investing in solar and wind power and other renewable resources sure makes a lot more sense in the longer term.

       This piece from the March 14, 2013 NY Times summarizes fracking issues well:

       http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/opinion/global/the-facts-on-fracking.html?_r=0

      The oil and gas industry's refrain is that fracking occurs thousands of feet below the surface and that ground water is only hundreds of feet below the surface. Yet, anything injected in the earth is certainly subject to moving along fractures to eventually reach the groundwater and surface of the earth. In addition, spilling of fracking fluid at the well  or storage sites is a very real concern. Having worked on oil rigs in the 1970's, I saw firsthand how careless some folks could be with those fluids around the well bore. And in our September Colorado floods, we saw how storage of anything used in oil wells could be compromised by mother nature.

       I certainly don't have all the fracking answers and I want to explore this topic further next week. I will leave you with this photograph of a 16-page flyer a friend received about guar gum used for fracking fluid:




          The flyer describes how guar bean gum is the same stuff used in your vanilla ice cream and in your fracking fluid. I believe I will go have some vanilla ice cream (with no guar bean gum) and ponder next week's blog. Better yet, add some caramel dioxide to my scoop. . .

         I would enjoy hearing your thoughts about fracking, caramel dioxide, guar bean gum. . .

         Word Woman (Scientific Steph)


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17 comments:

  1. A. I. Levorsen (not son). And he was most assuredly, not artificially intelligent!

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  2. I would also rally for the "green fracking fluid" that our governor, John Hickenlooper, drank a couple of years ago. Or maybe just make that fluid he drinks beer!

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  3. SS,
    Cute kindergarten anecdote. In the Willie Wonka movie didn’t somebody fall into a vat of chocolate or some other confectionary goo? If it were caramel, after escaping the vat one would leave big caramel footprints.
    Good Part 1 on fracking. Complicated subject/issue. Your prowess as an educator shines though in your writing; I’ll bet you’re good in the classroom too. I hope those kindergartners you‘re teaching (as well as those who were kindergartners around Y2K) know how good they have it.
    I read the blog twice (my brain is more like shale than limestone). The illustrations/diagrams helped me, as did the NYT link.
    Your comment about water being such a precious commodity in the arid west struck me, me among the land of 10,000 lakes. I think most Americans experience water a being plentiful and cheap, which will work in the fracking proponents’ favor. Bottom line: most Americans want cheap energy so will clamor for Alaskan pipelines, offshore drilling, fracking -- anything that keeps their utility bills low and utility vehicles on the highway.
    Something I wondered as I read: How are we feeling about nuclear energy these days? Soured? Scared? NIMBY (including spent fuel rods)? Resigned? Ignorant?
    I learned lots this week, SS, including that if I had money to invest I would put it all into guar bean stocks… Well, maybe I’d diversify: half in guar beans and half in Jack-and-the-Beanstalks magic beans.
    LL


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    1. Guar gum is also used in lots of commercial milkshake recipes. (OK, make that "milk"shake.) Cf, There Will Be Blood.

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    2. Thanks for reading, LL and Jan. This one took me longer. . . Working with the kids on Fridays provides such a great arena (Spanish for sandstone!) for thinking about the bigger picture.

      Jan, the milkshake analogy works so perfectly for fracking, especially for horizontal drilling. And fits in well with the ice cream and caramel dioxide! Just watched the clip from There Will Be Blood; so now I know where that originated.

      I made cranberry sauce for a holiday party this weekend. Those berries could give guar beans a run for their money as to gelling properties. If we do continue fracking, the cocktail/milkshake ingredients ought to be listed and available.

      We haven't been talking much about nuclear lately, have we, LL? Maybe fracking is just a plot to divert our attention. . .Off to invest in magic beans and revel in our temperatures above freezing!

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    3. SS,
      Sure, sure, you Coloradans revel in climbing above zero Celsius; in Minnesota we’d be happy to climb above zero Fahrenheit.
      LL


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    4. We did have a whole week of Arctic Blast, LL, here in CO. . . My daughter hasn't taken off her neck warmer for awhile in MN, though. Bundle up by the fire with a good book. A recommendation? (it's on my list): The Dinosaur Feather by S. J. Gazan, a novel about a group of scientists working on dinosaur evolution and involving an intriguing murder. . .

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  4. It seems to me that the issue for nuclear power is the same one that's been unresolved from the beginning: how do you assure the security of the radioactive waste for much further into the future than our civilization's been around? Clearly, leaving it around in pools near reactors isn't going to cut it.

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    1. Absolutely! And how do you get the Feds to heed reports/suggestions made in 1994 by Geographic Information Systems (GIS) modelers and geologists to not consider Yucca Mountain, NV, as a nuclear waste repository?! The extensive faulting observed and modeled in the ignimbrites at Yucca make it a terrible place to store nuclear wastes.

      I really hope they never use Yucca Mountain. But what a waste of time and money to study it, build it, and then not use it:

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/kensilverstein/2013/08/24/nuclear-waste-will-never-be-laid-to-rest-at-yucca-mountain/

      Said "Yuck!" to Yucca almost 20 years ago!






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  5. What I'm really waiting for (besides jet packs; we're still 13 years beyond the promised delivery date on those, right?) is for someone to figure out where Pons and Fleischmann went wrong, and get my home cold fusion unit shipped to me.

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  6. This appeared on the NY Times website yesterday:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/13/science/earth/as-quakes-shake-oklahoma-scientists-eye-oil-and-gas-industry.html

    Most of us are familiar with fracking by now, but I hadn't been aware of the use of large-volume disposal wells. Sounds like an ostrich-like way to get around clean water laws. Is there any regulation of this, any attempt to keep this wastewater out of aquifers?

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    1. Sorry, I had a Let-Me-Google-That-For-You moment. Here's info on this from the EPA:

      http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/index.cfm

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    2. Disposal wells are supposedly regulated in a number of states (TX has a long regulated code). As with many things, it comes down to compliance. There are not enough watch dogs to look at 100's of well, no less 1000's.

      The oil biz used to just walk away from mud pits and leave it on the landscape. Now the "clean up" involves taking the mess and injecting it back underground. I had an argument with the folks on a geologic research vessel the summer after college in the Mediterranean about just dumping our garbage (including Spam cans) out the back of the boat. "Not our problem, honey!" Of course, it is though.

      Pretty discouraging.


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    3. There are over 144,000 disposal wells in the U.S. The EPA and the states do not have the person power to be at all these sites 24/7. So prevention is difficult unless the industry self regulates. Of course, after the mess, there's somehow clean-up money at Superfund sites.

      Rachel Carson has to be turning over in her grave.

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    4. The Superfund trust fund lacks sufficient funds to clean up even a small number of the sites on National Priorities List. (Lots of hits on that line on the web.) So, the EPA negotiates with polluters to come up with a clean-up plan. The maximum fine for non-compliance? $37,500 a day.

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  7. From the EPA (Region 4) Superfund site:

    Who Pays for Superfund Cleanups

    Superfund Cleanup is paid for either by the parties responsible for contamination or by money appropriated by Congress for cleanups. One of EPA's top priorities is to get those responsible for the contamination (PRPs) to clean up the site. If the PRP cannot be found or cannot perform or pay for the cleanup work, the Federal Government funds the cleanup.

    Under the Superfund law, EPA is able to make those who are responsible for the contamination perform and pay for the cleanup. EPA negotiates to get them to pay for the plans and the work carried out under Agency supervision. EPA also may use Federal Government funds to pay cleanup costs, then attempt to recover the money through legal action.

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