Although they fully disclose which additives are used for each fracturing job, hydraulic fracturing companies keep the specific mix, or recipe, of fracturing fluid a secret – just like company’s producing food items or other consumable goods. That’s their competitive advantage!

Just like drilling fluid, fracturing fluid is necessary for the safe and efficient operation of equipment, and quite simply to get the job done right. Fracturing fluid chemicals perform such important functions as increasing or maintaining viscosity, reducing friction, inhibiting corrosion and eliminating bacteria.

And like drilling fluid, most of what’s in fracturing fluid is water – about 99% actually! The remaining less than 1% or so is made up of additives, many of which are also found in consumer goods and household products. The February 2013 issue of PatchWorks explained how companies report on the composition of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing, but didn’t have the space to offer examples of typical additives. Here’s a short list:

  • Guar: Emulsifying agent typically found in ice cream (emulsifying agents keep liquids in a compound from separating)
  • Citric acid: used in lemon juice and food flavouring
  • Sodium chloride: Used for table salt
  • Borate salts: Used in laundry detergent, hand soaps and cosmetics
  • Petroleum distillates: Used in make-up removers, laxatives and candy
  • Isopropanol: Used in glass cleaner, antiperspirant and hair colour

Of course not all fracturing fluid additives are this easy to recognize. The Frac Focus Chemical Disclosure Registry website lists a number of the chemical additives most often used in fracturing fluid.

Every fracturing fluid additive is selected for a specific – and important – purpose.

So there’s an idea of what types of additives are used in fracturing fluid. The next question is: How many additives are used each time? There is actually no standard, one-size-fits-all recipe for fracturing fluid.

According to Frac Focus: “The number of chemical additives used in a typical fracture treatment depends on the conditions, such as depth or location, of the specific well being fractured and the characteristics of the formation, such as thickness and type of rock. 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 rock formation being fractured.”

One more question is: How much of these chemicals are being used? Obviously in the process of hydraulic fracturing, chemical additives are used in much higher volumes than any of us would ever use at home.

That’s why hydraulic fracturing companies – like those involved in PSAC’s Working Energy Commitment – are devoting time, money and expertise in labs and innovation centres to finding ways to reduce the use of chemicals (and water) in hydraulic fracturing.

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