Can the Use of Biocides in Fracking Be Minimized by Oil and Gas Companies?

biocides in fracking
Can oil and gas companies find ways to reduce the use of biocides in fracking?
Image source: Flickr CC user Adam Harvey

Times have certainly changed for the gas and oil industry. Long gone are the days of the economic boom fueled by hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking. Plummeting prices of crude oil have caused global market volatility, resulting in companies having to downsize. This decrease in workforce, combined with the impending Great Crew Change, only further stokes anxiety about the future.

If those things weren’t difficult enough to contend with, fracking remains a controversial method. From concerns about groundwater contamination to environmental impact, the general public remains dubious about its safety and continues to put pressure upon officials to pass regulations governing the technique’s usage. A common trend among these proposed measures is transparency, such as requiring firms to disclose the chemicals used during the process. While digital solutions do exist to make the tracking of these chemical additives easier, recent studies may have found another way to ease public concern. The use of biocides in fracking may be unnecessary, after all.

The Use of Biocides in Fracking Stems from Protective Measures

The reason behind biocides’ inclusion in fracking mixtures is sound: they kill microbes that produce hydrogen sulfide. In addition to being toxic, hydrogen sulfide is also highly corrosive.1 In other words, preventing the formation of hydrogen sulfide helps preserve the structural integrity of oil and gas pipelines. While much effort has been put into identifying and testing areas most likely to fail2, eliminating a cause of those weak points should theoretically increase safety and minimize costs stemming from repairs.

Recent research, however, suggests that using biocides in fracking may do nothing to prevent hydrogen sulfide formation. Instead, geochemical reactions may be causing the toxic gas, and not microbes at all.3 Based on these findings, companies can—and probably should—minimize the usage of biocides in fracking. The advantages of doing so include:

  • Decreasing the impact to the surrounding ecosystem
  • Decreasing the chances of developing biocide-resistant bacteria
  • Decreasing operational costs

Removing biocides from fracking mixtures only addresses one half of the concern, though. Firms still have to worry about corrosive gas formation. Reducing toxicity is certainly important, but pipelines breaking during the process will still have potential adverse environmental and public health effects.

Companies Can Develop Alternatives to Replace the Use of Biocides in Fracking

If hydrogen sulfide is formed not as the result of microbial presence but rather as a byproduct of geochemical reactions, then oil and gas companies can use this information to develop chemical alternatives to take the place of biocides in fracking. While this task could once have been daunting, present-day technologies make its accomplishment more than possible.

  • Access and mine existing information regarding the geochemical reactions that lead to hydrogen sulfide formation and use these insights to inform the discovery and development of chemical alternatives to prevent its formation.
  • Screen potential alternatives for efficacy in intended use as well as any potential adverse environmental and public health effects.
  • Identify alternatives with the most promising potential to focus upon for further testing, speeding up the R&D process while keeping costs down.
  • Track materials used during the R&D process along with laboratory protocols to ensure maximum safety and regulatory compliance.

While the oil and gas industry has to cope with external pressures on multiple fronts, finding replacements for unnecessary toxic chemicals used during their procedures could go a long way to assuaging public anxiety. With all of the other uncertainty in the current market, earning goodwill can help the industry gain support in its other endeavors. And you never know: minimizing the use of biocides in fracking may only be a first step. If companies can find a viable alternative to stopping the formation of hydrogen sulfide, who’s to say that they can’t develop other chemicals to use during the process that are less toxic and pose no environmental risk?

The BIOVIA Chemicals Research & Development solution is an integrated suite of processes that streamlines the R&D process by interfacing scientists, information, procedures and data to improve collaboration, workflows and compliance. From tracking chemical inventory to enabling molecular modeling and simulation, the solution provides the tools that users need to discover and develop innovative new chemicals while cutting both time and money investment. If your oil and gas company is interested in implementing a set of tools to support its efforts to streamline workflows in the face of external pressures such as tightening margins, then please contact us to learn more.

  1. “Sweet technique finds cause of sour oil, gas,” April 5, 2016, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160405110459.htm
  2. “UBCO research targets oil and gas pipeline safety,” May 20, 2016 http://www.kelownacapnews.com/news/380277601.html
  3. “Fracking Wells Can Cut Their Toxic Chemical Use,” April 8, 2016, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fracking-wells-can-cut-their-toxic-chemical-use/