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Hydraulic Fracturing

New ASTM International Subcommittee to Develop Needed Standards

A new standards initiative in Subcommittee D18.26 on hydraulic fracturing will drive best practices for this energy-producing process.

A newly formed ASTM International subcommittee is tackling the topic of hydraulic fracturing, addressing the need for consensus standards in this rapidly growing area of the energy field. Subcommittee D18.26 on Hydraulic Fracturing, part of ASTM Committee D18 on Soil and Rock, brings together a diverse range of stakeholders to collaborate on developing standards that will promote best practices in hydraulic fracturing operations.

The formation of D18.26 comes at a time when the oil and gas industry is increasingly turning to hydraulic fracturing technologies to tap into vast reserves of oil, natural gas and even geothermal energy located in the shale formations thousands of feet below the earth’s surface. Hydraulic fracturing maximizes the extraction of these previously inaccessible resources. Used in conjunction with horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing allows oil and natural gas to flow freely from rock pores to production wells that bring the natural resources to the surface.

Background: Fulfilling the Need for Clean Energy

With heightened global interest in the advancement of new energy sources, hydraulic fracturing holds great promise in driving continued growth in clean energy development, particularly natural gas. Buoyed by technological gains in hydraulic fracturing, shale gas production is projected to increase almost threefold over the next two decades: from 5 trillion cubic feet [.14 trillion cubic meters] in 2010 to 13.6 trillion cubic feet [.39 trillion cubic meters] in 2035, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

These factors help account for the surge in hydraulic fracturing operations in the United States across multiple states over the past five to 10 years. The hotbed of activity is the Marcellus Shale formation, which spans across Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. With its huge reservoir of natural gas and its proximity to high-demand East Coast consumer markets, the Marcellus Shale has become an attractive target for energy development by major oil and gas industry companies.

The Economic Impact of Hydraulic

Fracturing

In these states and others where hydraulic fracturing operations are currently under way or targeted in the future, extracting natural resources can also produce significant benefits for local economies. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan organization that serves the legislators and staffs of the nation’s states, commonwealths and territories, hydraulic fracturing can contribute to increases in job creation, capital expenditures, gross domestic product and tax revenues, while also creating savings through lower natural gas and electric power prices.

In spite of this economic upside, state and local lawmakers often must walk a tightrope before giving the green light to hydraulic fracturing operations in their communities. The challenge they face is balancing the economic growth associated with hydraulic fracturing and the need to protect environmental resources and overall public health.

“Policymakers are continuing to recognize the tremendous economic benefits that shale gas development could bring to state and local economies, while also working to ensure that the resource is extracted safely,” says Jacquelyn Pless, energy policy associate at the NCSL, Denver, Colo.

ASTM Standards: Helping to Achieve a Balance

As the oil and gas industry moves forward with hydraulic fracturing, balancing industry growth and economic gain with ongoing environmental safety remains a principal concern throughout the public and private sectors. To help achieve this balancing act, stakeholders from all aspects of the hydraulic fracturing area have increasingly called for the development of consensus standards that will better guide operations in the field and protect downstream air, land and water resources.

Meeting the need for the consensus standards that will propel hydraulic fracturing safely into the future is the focus of the new standards effort organized in ASTM Committee D18. Subcommittee D18.26 on Hydraulic Fracturing will create sound technical standards for this dynamic and innovative field.

“As the oil and gas industry looks to tap into the vast energy resources in shale formations across the United States, the surge in hydraulic fracturing activity is expected to continue for years to come,” says Kenneth R. Bell, Ph.D, P.E., D.GE, corporate manager of geotechnical and hydraulic engineering services at Bechtel Corp., Reston, Va., vice chairman of ASTM Committee D18, and a member of the ASTM hydraulic fracturing task group. “New standards developed by ASTM D18.26 will help direct the work of the industry so that these operations can be performed to accepted best practices, and oil and gas can be recovered in a safe and secure manner.”

Ronald J. Ebelhar, P.E., D.GE., senior principal, Terracon, Cincinnati, Ohio, and chairman of ASTM Committee D18, says, “Working within the time-proven and open ASTM forum, D18.26 will bring a balanced perspective to the hydraulic fracturing area, engaging all interested parties in a manner that gives consideration to all points of view. The result will be the delivery of standards that truly benefit collective goals.”

“The oil and gas industry will achieve a level playing field through the acceptance of best practices that underlay hydraulic fracturing infrastructures and guide critical aspects of business operations. Regulators at the federal, state and local level will be better able to focus on big pictures knowing that basic technical issues are covered by ASTM standards. And concerns within the general public should be allayed by proven and tested standards that improve industry practices and serve to better protect natural resources,” says Ebelhar.

Enhancing Safety in Site Infrastructure

The process of hydraulic fracturing begins with the building of the site infrastructure, including well construction. Production wells may be drilled in the vertical direction only or paired with horizontal or directional sections. Vertical well sections may be drilled hundreds to thousands of feet below the land surface and lateral sections may extend thousands of feet away from the well.

ASTM Committee D18.26 will address the industry’s need for consensus standards that guide well construction. Proposed standards will address critical areas such as:

  • Background site investigation and permitting;
  • Well installation and borehole integrity testing;
  • Engineering and drilling techniques; and
  • Permanent well abandonment and data reporting.

Public Health and the Environment

With shale gas extraction rapidly expanding near densely populated regions of the United States, concerns over downstream environmental impact have brought increased public attention to hydraulic fracturing. Among the areas of concern are the potential impact on water and air quality as well as the safety of habitats and wildlife that surround hydraulic fracturing operations. A major focus of D18.26 efforts will be the development of guidelines and practices that will help protect overall environmental safety and public health.

To fulfill this objective, D18.26 will develop standards that:

  • Assist the oil and gas industry in the safe management and disposal of drilling fluids;
  • Support effective groundwater monitoring and remediation; and
  • Provide practices that facilitate proper reinjection of produced well fluids.

Providing valuable assistance to D18.26 members will be the vast body of work of other D18 subcommittees who have created numerous standards over the years that have direct applicability to the area of hydraulic fracturing. An initial area of emphasis for D18.26 will be integrating these existing D18 standards into its new standard practices and guides for hydraulic fracturing.

Openness and Objectivity Under the ASTM Umbrella

The efforts of Committee D18.26 will be aided by the broad cross-section of stakeholders who have joined forces in the open and consensus-driven ASTM International process to collaborate on the development of critical standards and achieve mutually beneficial goals. D18.26 will draw its membership from all points of view relative to the hydraulic fracturing issue, including representatives from the oil and gas industry, environmental groups, engineering firms, federal regulators, state and local governments, permitting bodies and academia.

“ASTM is the ideal forum for this effort, a true neutral ground where all interested parties can have their voice heard and shape the direction of future standards for hydraulic fracturing,” says John (Jack) T. Germaine, Ph.D., department of civil and environmental engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., vice chairman of ASTM Committee D18, and acting chair of the new subcommittee. “By participating on Committee D18.26, stakeholders can freely air out issues and collaborate on standards that are fair and reasonable, provide guidance for all involved, and serve as the watchdog for the needs of the environment.”

Subcommittee D18.26: At a Glance

Committee Scope:

Develop standards and promote knowledge related to

geo-environmental, geologic and geotechnical aspects of

hydraulic fracturing activities.

ASTM International Contact:

Staff Manager Robert Morgan

Phone: 610-832-9732

Next Meeting: January 2013

This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.