Shale Gas Talking About a Revolution – Fracking Turns Chemical Industry Upside–Down

Editor: Dominik Stephan

Falling energy prices, cheap feedstock and reduced global dependencies: Shale gas is America’s new bonanza. But while European manufacturers lament the slow development in the “Old World”, its time to face the chances that this boom provides for chemical companies. Fracking fluids and waste water treatment solutions call for innovative solutions.

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Wellhead with fracking equipment at a drill site.
Wellhead with fracking equipment at a drill site.
(Picture: WEG Wirtschaftsverband Erdöl- und Erdgasgewinnung e.V.)

Revolutions start from the underground — deep below the surface of America’s North-East lies the Marcellus Formation. Stretching from the Appalachians to Virginia, this layer of black shales has become America’s new Bonanza: Shale gas production has turned the country upside down.

Low energy costs (the price for natural gas in the US is roughly one third of the price in Europe) and cheap feedstock for petrochemicals could see investment projects spring up like mushrooms. These news are music to the ears of a crisis-ridden USA — in fact, a new study by HIS Global Insights estimates that drilling for oil and natural gas in shale rocks is already supporting around 1.7 million jobs, including such outside the energy and oil industry.


Talking About a Revolution

This forecast might be a bit too optimistic — but it could also mean a revolution: During the last decade, the US looked peaky and old. New players like China and India took the lead, while Europe’s long-time problem child Germany showed how a developed nation could stay abreast the shooting stars of Asia. Now, everything looks different: Cheap gas in the US threatens to lure energy intensive industries away from other regions — while America is rubbing its hands about the new and cheap raw material.

What’s Needed for Fracking

No other branch of oil and gas production is as dependent on process chemicals as shale gas: The hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of shale formations needs not only huge amounts of water but also highly pressurized fracturing fluids. Although these agents vary in composition, they usually contain acids such as hydrochlorid acid or acetic salts that fraction and clean the rock at the wellhead. Other chemicals minimize the friction to enable higher pump pressures or break down molecular bonds within colloids. The New York Times estimates that between 2005 and 2009 more than 43 million liters of chemicals were pumped into the shales.

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