The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

How to Control Surface Spills on Unconventional Gas Wells

Graham Marshall - Thursday, December 11, 2014

I'm fortunate to work with some very bright people who care passionately about protecting our environment; and at the same time, meet our community energy needs through the exploration and production (E+P) of unconventional hydrocarbons in the form of clean-burning gas.

So it is particularly annoying to have a rat-bag group of NIMBY protesters telling outright lies to the community about our industry's so-called pollution risk to soils, ground water, and health.

I am proud to work in the unconventional energy business - as an Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) specialist - with a very real focus on absolute minimization of risk in our business.

The safety of our people, and the protection of our environment are paramount values amongst the people with whom I work.

Having said all that, one of the common lies told  by opponents of Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation ("frac") is that spills of chemicals on the surface will pollute ground water for thousands of years, and cause untold adverse health problems for local people.

Let me share with you some photographs of the simple, yet effective ways in which we aim for "Zero Loss of Primary Containment" (0 LOPC).

It all starts with the way we construct the drilling location at the start of the Frac process.

As you can see in the picture above, we make a very large non-porous impermeable membrane that covers the whole of the frac-location before work begins.  The impermeable layer is designed to contain any liquid spills and allow time for a Vac-truck to be called to location to suck up the spill before it gets beyond the containment barrier.

Of course, the impermeable barrier is just one of several "layers of protection" that we ensure are being used before the frac begins.  The first layer of protection is to make sure that primary containment of any liquids is always sound.

By primary containment, I mean things like the actual fuel-tanks on generators, or the hoses on engines.  These items of equipment are frequently checked to make sure they are able to contain liquids within the equipment.  But where possible, we used secondary containment (often called "paddling pools" or "duck ponds")  to surround any equipment that contains its own liquid sources (e.g., fuel tanks, light plant, etc).  The paddling pool is the first line of defence if a spill does occur.

So, contrary to the lies of the anti-frac brigade, we make enormous effort to ensure that spills and leaks from primary containment are prevenented.

But a significant part of our risk management efforts is to ensure we have plans in place to ensure that spills which do occur, do not get beyond the secondary containment of the paddling pools or the tertiary containment of the location liner.

Finally, if that fails, we have contingency plans in place which ensure a rapid clean-up is put in place.  This  ensures that all contaminated soil is either treated on location, or removed for treatment at an approved waste facility.

Taken together, the prevention controls and the emergency mitigation and recovery controls I have outlined above mean that there is zero-risk to the earth where we frac; zero risk to the water-table directly below frac locations; and zero risk to community health in the local community in the areas where we work.

Please don't believe the lies of the rat-bags who oppose our drive to create energy-security, cheaper sources of energy, and more high-paying jobs for local people.

There is another side to the story which the Frac-free groups won't tell you.

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