GasFrac Energy Services, in Alberta Canada has pioneered a proprietary propane injected system to retrieve oil and gas. It uses liquid propane gas as a fracking agent to replace the need for the several million gallons of water normally used each time a well is fracked. The company claims that propane injection is not covered by the New York fracking moratorium on gas drilling.
The process injects propane gel under high pressure into the shale. It gasifies during the process and is recovered, sold, or reused. GasFrac has commercialized this approach and is building a niche in the fracking services business as an alternative to water-based procedures.
But the process, which is not well understood and has not been the subject of empirical analysis or scientific study, appears to be just as threatening as traditional fracking using water to the environment and to people’s health.
There are many problems with the process:
- Liquid propane is highly combustible and presents dangers to workers as well as residents. In 2011 use of it resulted in two explosions/fires – one left 3 workers hospitalized and one worker with second degree burns and the second, a flash fire, injured about a dozen workers, two of whom had to be evacuated to the hospital by helicopter. In a third incident, GasFrac Energy Services had to shut down the company for 2 weeks in January 2012 while they investigated a fire at a well site.
- Liquid propane fracking still requires large quantifies of additional but different chemicals, which at the moment are unknown, but very likely hazardous.
- It requires many truckloads of liquid propane and chemicals for each frack, which have to be hauled to and from the well sites using trucks on local roads, risking accidents and surface pills.
- It does not address the problems associated with the migration of methane and other chemicals into the groundwater from casing failure, leaks, natural faults and old unsealed wells.
- There is an added danger of large amounts of propane, a heavier than air gas, leaking and pooling in low spots near the well pad and causing an explosion hazard.
- Big compressors would be needed on each site to recondense returned propane for reuse requiring a heavy industrial hazardous operation, which would add to air pollution.
Based on extensive study and scientific evidence, Catskill Mountainkeeper has called for a ban on fracking. We are also working within the existing regulatory process in New York to raise critical issues, widen the discussion of the impacts of drilling, and expand the options available to protect the public.