We’ve come a long way from blasting into the ground with our fingers crossed, says Kyle Dacey of Chemco Inc., as HazMat Management magazine’s half-day seminar on eFracking wrapped at the BMO Financial Group Institute for Learning.
Most of the environmental consultants and other enviro-professionals took the opportunity to attend the October 8, 2013 event for one reason: to discover when and how to frack.
While most of the population thinks of fracking in terms of oil and gas exploration, experts at the HazMat Management seminar focused the discussion on how the controversial practice can be used to remediate a contaminated site. Of course, fracking can also be used for product recovery, reductive fixation, Ph stabilization, carbon sorption, or even bio-venting.
Known as eFracking — for environmental fracking — it’s a practice that more or less predates the use of fracking for oil and gas exploration, at least in terms of mainstream use.
The first eFrac demo took place in 1986, explained presenter Bill Slack, founder of FRx Inc., who gave seminar delegates a brief history lesson on the art and science of fracking.
The first eFrac of a contaminated site occurred in 1990, he said.
It wasn’t until eight years later that fracking for shale gas really took hold of the marketplace.
“It went from a steep line to right up through the roof,” Slack said of the fracking boom that continued strongly until around 2005.
The elements of shale gas fracking versus eFracking are night and day, Slack said. The sheer scale of shale gas fracking operations is tremendous. Huge property, equipment and staff. Anyone of the wells can use several hundred truckloads of water per day.
Efracking is much smaller scale, Slack said. As it’s meant to enhance restoration of site, it uses significantly less wells — in the 2,000- 3,000 range — compared to the vast scores of wells used for exploration.
Oil and gas actually fracking dates back to 1946, explained Slack.
“The first job they did was a failure. It was a dud. But the next four were spectacular,” Slack said of the initial efforts in the U.S.
Not only does shale gas fracking place a huge burden on local water supplies, the technique also uses a huge variety of chemicals, Slack said.
“It can be a pretty nasty cocktail of stuff when the water comes back out,” he warned.
Efracking meanwhile, is 99.5 per cent sand and water, with just .5 per cent chemicals. Those chemicals are clean to boot, Slack said.
“Every chemical we use can probably be bought at the grocery store or a health food store,” said Slack.
Often, fracking moratoriums do not apply to eFracking.
As for the question of when to use efracking, Vertex Environmental Inc. President Bruce Tunnicliffe told delegates that some of the initial considerations are the ability to access the contaminated area, and, of course, cost.
“It’s part of your delivery or remediation technique,” Tunnicliffe said of eFracking, which can be expensive.
It can cost upwards of $100,000 to even think about efracking. For areas larger than a typical gas station, costs can end up in the ballpark of $16 per ton of treated area.
While expensive, and not useful in highly-conductive acquifers, eFracking can be useful for difficult to access areas, and to avoid additional remediation treatments in the near future.
“You might be able to save years of remediation work on a site with fracking,” said Tunnicliffe.
There are very few geological restrictions for eFracking. It can be done in bedrock, sandstone, limestone, and various soils.