Some proof: Frac related pictures I've taken - to my knowledge, these pictures do not exist elsewhere on the web, aside from my personal accounts If requested, I will provide more proof, so long as it does not require me to reveal the name of my company.

I come from a West Texan oil and gas family. I grew up in the company of geologists, landmen, roughnecks, mudloggers, and environmental specialists. I started working as a geological technician when I was twenty, and now have several years of experience. I later worked in oil and gas regulations and compliance (though only briefly), and I currently work as a fracturing fluid technician. I have been involved in the fluid design for hundreds of wells. I also spend some part of every day in the field.

I love working in the field more than any other part of my job - I'm somewhat of an anomaly in this regard because I'm a woman. I have become very familiar with sexism in this industry.

In addition to my hands-on experience, I also wrote two capstone papers for my university covering environmental regulations in oil production and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing.


Edit: I really don't hate the environment. I promise. I'm highly in favor of alternative energy sources, and I do my best to make positive contributions to the Earth. Believe it or not, working for an oil company has yet to conflict with my views.

Edit: A very important thing to consider and remember when engaging in discourse over the oil & gas industry... It's here because you use it. It's here because people need it. Oil is used in the manufacture of plastics, medical supplies, cosmetics, cars, bikes, shoes, construction materials, computers, phones, and more. It's not just about gasoline. As long as we remain dependent on oil, we're going to need to get it somehow. Frac'ing is the best way to get it right now. If you think frac'ing is evil, that's fine, but every person that reads this is a consumer of oil. That's a fact.

Comments: 1759 • Responses: 14  • Date: 

aliens182322 karma

1)How dangerous is hydraulic fracturing really to the environment?

2)Also how much more oil or natural gas does it yield compared to other methods?

SJtheFox135 karma

I'll answer your second question first because my response is a lot shorter. A newly fracked well can produce hundreds to a couple of thousand barrels of oil per day. However, fracking isn't a method designed to produce more than other methods, per se.

When oil forms, it doesn't stay in one place. It migrates along the path of least resistance. That's why you end up with "reservoirs." Reservoirs are areas of lower (not low) density rock with higher porosity so oil moves into and through them relatively easily (it's still like trying to squeeze goo out of a brick). These areas are where we like to get oil from. It's easy, cheap, and doesn't take a lot of mechanical power to produce the oil. Since we've been drilling for oil since the 1800s (the royal "we" that is), we've used up most of the known reservoir oil in the US.

That doesn't mean that we're running out of oil. It means we've run out of CHEAP oil. Fracturing has been in use since the 1950s, but it was never economical until recently because it takes a lot more time, energy, and money. When oil prices skyrocketed, fracturing became a viable option.

Fracturing can be used in areas of rock where oil formed - called source rock. Source rock is very dense and very deep under ground. Thus, the oil in source rock is hard to get to and when you get to it it doesn't want to come out. The oil that wanted to come out already migrated away to a reservoir. Fracturing allows the oil that doesn't want to come out at all to flow somewhat freely. So basically, it allows us to produce oil that wasn't considered producible (because it was too expensive) a few decades ago.

I really am going to write a lengthy response to your environmental question because it's surely the most important one. I'm going to post it in a separate comment because it's going to be really long. Stay tuned.

Deanicus67 karma

Gasland is a pisspoor documentary.

Fraccing works incredibly well for both gas and (fiscally more important) oil production. Major plays in south-central Texas had massive reserves previously untapped until oil-fraccing became viable.

A lot of the environmental concerns behind fraccing are bad business practices by those companies (as seen in Gasland), any ground water contaminated by gas is due to the irresponsibility of the company drilling and producing in those areas. As far as oil fraccing goes, it contains the same environmental threats as gas fraccing primarily because gas comes up with the oil. However, at least in Texas, oil fraccing usually occurs so deep that ground water contamination is substantially less threatening (safety regulations by the RRC and the company help preserve this).

A concern NOT brought up by Gasland or anyone who has a shitclue about fraccing is the possible long-term consequences of breaking up hundreds of thousands of acres of shale and limestone thousands of feet beneath the earth's surface. Wastewater fraccing in Arkansas is beginning to develop correlations between micro-tremors and injection wells. There is no substantial data to prove these practices will lead to anything particularly harmful, however an understanding of geology and geomorphology could lead one to believe that harmful seismic activity will result from this.

SJtheFox20 karma

SpOILed is a much better documentary. It's hard to torrent though unless you plan on DLing a bunch of pron with the same title. Try to track down a copy. It's good stuff.

Falcon_Kick109 karma

Can you please comment on the environmental effects of hydrofracking to the best of your ability? I understand that fracking is one of the things leading forecasts of America's future energy Independence, however I've seen some scary documentaries about groundwater pollution occurring near wells

SJtheFox99 karma

This is going to sound like a sound bite, but it's not. No case of unreported ground water contamination has ever been traced back to frac.


Groundwater is occasionally contaminated by casing failure which has nothing to do with frac.

When a well is drilled, a government organization - in Texas it's the Railroad Commission and Groundwater Advisory Unit - defines where the water table is located.

If the water table is located at, for example, 300 ft below surface. The GAU might say "You must install surface casing from surface to 450 ft." This means that the only drilling fluid used to that depth is water and when they hit 450 ft they must install steel casing in the hole and then fill the space between the wellbore and casing with specialized cement. After that, they drill deeper then install intermediate steel casing and another layer of cement, so now the water table has two layers of casing and two layers of cement. Then they drill deeper and repeat with production casing. Meaning the water table is protected by three layers of casing and three layers of cement. After every round, the bond between the cement and the casing has to be tested and verified by the Railroad Commission. If the cement doesn't bond properly it has to be redone. Furthermore, the casing must be retested regularly. If a failure is found, the well has to be shut down until it can be fixed.

Point being, it's pretty straight forward that people need clean drinking water. It doesn't benefit anyone to do a crappy job of protecting it. And protecting the water table happens months before a frac crew can get anywhere near a well. Frac jobs are done literally thousands of feet below the water table. Also, frac fluid is almost entirely water itself.

screw-bean-parody65 karma

How about we actually ask questions rather than try to belittle her for what she does. As a fracking technician she likely knows more than any of us about the matter. Is the media's depiction of fracking realistic, if not what do they have wrong?

SJtheFox31 karma

Thank you for being so nice! I like nice people. :)

Media does not depict fracking realistically in most ways. Here's what they get right:

*It uses A LOT of water - millions of gallons per well in many cases *It creates fractures in rock formations deep under ground *It requires large quantities of many chemicals, some dangerous, others not

What they've got way wrong:

*While fracking requires a lot of water, it does not account for a significant usage in the grand scheme. In Texas, frac accounts for less than 1% of water consumption and my company alone has fracked somewhere around 400 wells this year - a small number relative to many service companies. In comparison, agriculture accounts for 60% of water consumption. Not really surprising when you thinking about it, but the amount of water required for agriculture is less apparent because it's used across huge areas and generally in relatively small amounts in each individual usage. *Creating a fracture that is 0.5" x 100' x 1000' under 10,000+ feet of rock does not an earthquake make. Earthquakes stem from continents pushing on each other for millions of years. A fracture will cease to exist at all if you just let off the pressure for an instant. *Fractures do not extend unpredictably far, or even in significantly unpredictable directions. They definitely do not extend thousands of feet into the water supply. Rock is actually quite predictable. *While chemicals are required for fracturing a well, the media seems to lack any perspective on quantities and blending. At my company, we frac with the follow proportions (for an even more detailed account, please check out - in Texas, FULL disclosure of chemical quantities, usage, and risks are mandatory for every frac and the information is available to the public):

Frac fluid: 1000 gallons water 4000 pounds of sand 3.75 gallons of guar (a powdered bean, similar to a soy bean - you eat it all the time in fast food and ice cream) 0.4 gallons of biocide (not likely to kill you, despite the name) 0.2 gallons of surfactant (industrial soap) 1.3 gallons of borate crosslinker (mildly dangerous, basically borax)

In percentages that's 99.4% water, 0.37% guar, 0.03% biocide, 0.015% surfactant, and 0.129% crosslinker.

Someone once asked me if I would drink frac fluid - yeah, I would. It probably wouldn't taste very good, but I assure you that water with a drop of biocide in it isn't going to hurt anyone. You could fall in a lake of it and be a-okay.

More on environmental risks in other comments.

limbodog40 karma

I have become very familiar with sexism in this industry.

Care to give some worst case examples?

I feel like the Web Comic Wasted Talent has given some excellent ones so far. (She's a mechanical engineer, but doesn't work in Fracking) But I'm interested to hear more.

And, lastly, what do you think should be done about it? Can the industry culture be changed?

On an unrelated note: fracking appears to have a number of environmental disads. And political pressure has silenced critics of some of them. How do you feel about this?

SJtheFox86 karma

On the subject of sexism in my industry:

One of the most comical sexist experiences I've hadl: The last company I worked for brought food in for the employees most mornings. The men folk would stand around the food buffet like vultures and glare at any woman that attempted to take food before the men were done eating. I used to go take food from them every morning anyway, but I always felt like I was stealing food from lions. If there was good stuff, I'd be sure to tell the people around me, but my female coworkers would always ask if the men had left yet. If they were still around, everyone but me would skulk around in the hallway until the coast was clear. Pretty absurd.

In the company I work for now, it's almost impossible for women to get field jobs. You have to be very assertive. During my interview process, I was clearly the most qualified and enthusiastic applicant, but I was antagonized throughout the entire process. For example, during my first interview, the only questions that seemed to be important to my future boss were things like "Are you going to be comfortable getting dirt on you?" or "You know it's hot outside, right?" or "You realize you're going to be in the field, right? Like everyday? Working long hours?" and so forth. For the record, I applied for the job because I WANTED a field job. After I got through that interrogation, I was brought in for a second interview where my boss took me out to the field and tried to scare me by telling me how dangerous it could be. I found out later that I was the only new hire that was taken to the field even though no one else had any field experience. I was the only female applicant. Curious.

Since I got the job, part of my training was to spend two weeks working as a frac hand. I worked 15+ hour days in the 115 degree weather rigging up/down frac sites, operating equipment, and doing everything the guys did. Nothing about it was fun, but I earned a lot of respect from the other hands because I didn't hide. Those two weeks have rid my daily job of a lot of the sexist BS, though I still occasionally have guys refuse to let me help or tell me that I really ought to be in an office and so forth.

I know that women occasionally apply for frac hand (equipment operator) jobs, but I have heard - unofficially - that they will never even get interviews. I speak from experience when I say there is absolutely no reason for this.

As for the culture, it's changing even if it's changing very slowly. Almost every company I've worked in has had female geologists, engineers, etc. More and more companies are opening up to hiring women to work in the field. I think more women are realizing that it's acceptable, even welcomed, to be assertive and intelligent. The jobs are out there, if you want to fight for them.

Part of the problem is that West Texas is so culturally backward to begin with. Even beyond the oil industry, it's still very much assumed that young women will get married to working men and promptly start popping out kids. Many women out here are highly educated, but they still tend to end up in "traditional" jobs. Which isn't to say that I think there's anything wrong with being a housewife or a teacher or a nurse and so on, but the demographics here just don't match up with the changes taking place country- or world-wide. Ultimately, I think West Texas will catch up, but it will go kicking and screaming all the way.

As for the environmental and political issues with frac'ing. Check the other questions/comments. I'll be posting related answers shortly. :)

superspeck18 karma

My girlfriend is a civil engineer in Texas and has many of the same experiences regarding sexism in male-dominated engineering fields. Worse, she works for a consulting firm and has to stay nice to very sexist clients and contractors in order to get work done.

SJtheFox11 karma

I've had to bite my tongue a few times when dealing with suppliers and such. It always gets under my skin.

pmmcl5 karma

I'm acquainted with the team that started Young Professional Women in Energy. Currently, there are only branches in the Marcellus/Utica Shale regions, but they're trying to get many more branches off the ground.

If, by chance, you're interested in the group, I'd be glad to provide you with more information and the contact information for the chapter presidents. They've actually had trouble locating and attracting female field workers (which, as you know, are hard to come by) to the group, and I bet they'd love to pick your brain.

SJtheFox5 karma

I would love to be involved!!

TheGreatAntlers40 karma

  • What degree(s) do you have

  • can you explain fracing to me like im 5?

SJtheFox35 karma

I have a BA in Social Sciences focusing on Psychology (more behavioral neuroscience) and Sociology - yep, not remotely related to what I do, I know.

I'm currently working on a MS in Biology and plan to follow that with a PhD.

Frac in somewhat of a nutshell: Oil companies used to get oil primarily from reservoir rock that is comparatively porous. If you could hit a reservoir, the oil would travel into the wellbore quite easily. We have consumed unfathomable quantities of reservoir oil, and thus it is much less attainable. Now, we get oil primarily from source rock (where the oil formed). Source rock is incredibly dense and is much deeper under ground in most cases (where I work our wells are ~10,000 ft). If you drill into source rock, you won't get much of anything. So, using large quantities of water and pressure, the rock formation is fractured and the fractures are then filled with sand. The sand props open the frac and its porosity allows the oil to travel back to the wellbore.

jtfalco13 karma

Thank you for taking the time to do this. Working as a technician, you get more exposure than I do to the field. What do you see as the common risks to yourself, other technicians/workers, and to any locals who may live near your work zone? Do you feel that everybody is made aware of any likely dangers? Edit: grammar, mistyped words

SJtheFox13 karma

I consider my job to be pretty low risk, even though I could easily, theoretically, get killed in the field. Frac is a dangerous business because of the level of pressure required to frac a well - in West Texas we run about 6000 psi, but South Texas requires around 14000 psi. All that pressure is directed through above-ground iron pipes. Our iron is tested daily at pressures above what is expected to be used though, so it's very unlikely that there will actually be a rupture. When things go catastrophically wrong, it is usually the result of a valve being shut-in (sealed) when it is supposed to be open. Pressure builds up at that valve, and the joint will rupture. Anyone standing in the vicinity can be injured or killed on impact. For this reason, there are only one or two people that are allowed in the high pressure area when a job is running. There is also a lot of monitoring equipment in place that is meant to alert the fleet to unusually high pressure. Every piece of equipment on site has an emergency shutdown button for just that reason.

Other risks to workers include pinch points that can catch fingers, limbs, etc. These are supposed to be covered at all times, and power switches are locked out when equipment is being worked on.

The most common injury I see in the field here is smashed fingers from hammers when workers aren't wearing the right gloves. Not a fun thing to do, but hardly life-threatening.

What I actually find scariest is wireline. Wireline companies send the "guns" down hole to create perforations in the well casing. The guns are filled with explosives that can be triggered by radio signal from the surface. Ideally, they are only triggered once the guns are in the hole. However, there's always a brief period before every perf when the guns are armed and on surface and there are 20+ workers walking around with radios and cell phones. I'm sure you can see the problem there. As scary as that seems to me though, I know of very few on-surface wireline accidents - but not zero.

As for risks to the public, there are virtually none. Hydrogen sulfide release is always going to be a concern when producing oil, but there are many redundant, preventative measures in place. Oil field towns are pretty prepared for that possibility, too. There are VERY clear guidelines for oil companies and emergency personnel in the event of an H2S release.

The concerns that people THINK there are for the public - high water consumption and water contamination - are non-existent. Yes, frac uses a lot of water - millions of gallons per job. That accounts for less than 1% of total water consumption, whereas agriculture accounts for 60%. And yes, oil wells go through the water table, but the water table is very carefully protected. I will elaborate on this in other comments. No case of water contamination has successfully been traced back to frac. The cases you see on YouTube of people lighting their tap water on fire are almost certainly from improperly drilled and cased water wells. H2S generally occurs at shallow depths and migrates. It's not hard for it to end up in a water supply when the well is not properly cased and drilled.

Trollin_on_dubz9 karma

I'm also in the fracking business. But I'm up in the Appalachian mountains. What's your day to day like?

SJtheFox11 karma

I work in the Permian Basin of West Texas. The weather is the worst part of my job. In the summers it easily reaches 115 degrees and can be higher around the equipment. Add coveralls, boots, gloves, a hardhat...kind of sucks.

My day to day duties vary a little. I test half of all the wells my company fracs. That means 6-8 wells per week for me. My coworker tests the other half. It is my responsibility to sample the water source that will feed the frac job and then design a fluid that will maintain a high enough viscosity to carry sand for the whole pump time. I do all the preliminary testing in the lab before the job actually pumps and the fleet runs their fluid based on my recommendation.

When a job is expected to go poorly (usually because of a bad water source), I will sit on the job and do additional testing as the job runs. We also do this when a job is high profile, like if we're using a new technique or frac'ing in a new formation.

I can work anywhere from 7 to 16 hours a day, just depending on the workload. I spend 2-5 hours driving back and forth to location and the rest of the time actually conducting fluid analysis.

Smiles_4312 karma


Thank you for doing this AMA. This isn't gonna be an easy one for you, sorry haha. As I've seen so far, be prepared to defend the environmental aspect of your job, it's not a very popular place to be. Anyways, my 2 questions:

1) You make reference to a pair of capstone paper you wrote for your university covering environmental regulations in oil production and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing. I'm curious about your findings, especially in the wake to the controversy surrounding this professor.

2) As a person in the industry, what is your opinion on another controversial subject, the Halliburton Loophole? If fracking is a safe practice, why is it shielded from the safe water drinking act?

SJtheFox3 karma

In a nutshell, my findings were that the oil and gas industry is one of the most heavily and redundantly regulated industries when it comes to environmental safety. When you consider the volume of oil that is produced, refined, and transported even just within the US each year, it is down right miraculous that there are so few major spills. Furthermore, the oil and gas industry is becoming increasingly transparent, which I think is damn cool. Take, for example, - a website I will undoubtedly reference countless times on this AMA. FracFocus was developed as a database where oil companies could voluntarily disclose the chemicals and volumes of chemicals used in every frac job. The company I worked for pioneered this site with a handful of other companies. Over the last year and a half or so, disclosure has become mandatory in several states, including Texas. All frac jobs, no matter how large or small, must disclose every chemical - even water - used including the quantity and the risks associated with it. It doesn't matter if the chemical is protected by a patent, it must still be disclosed, in that case with contact information. The oil business will necessarily continue to make changes like this, and many of those changes are happening without government intervention.

As for the professor's study, that's the first I've heard of it, but I will have to read up on it. As a side note on my papers, I wrote them at a hyperliberal, anti-oil, very pro-green university (Western Washington University). It was an interesting experience, but I hope that at least suggests that I wasn't just picking the written brains of a bunch of oil enthusiasts, haha.

I'm not sure how thoroughly I can answer your second question, but I'll do my best. The obvious problem I see with the reference you linked is that the author implies that what's going down well is toxic or harmful. It's over 99% water and 0.3% edible bean. That leaves only 0.7% of frac fluid that is even remotely harmful and most of the chemicals that make up that 0.7% are diluted with water already. So it's really an even higher percentage water. Would you honestly tell me that if I handed you a glass of water and said it had 0.7% hydrochloric acid in it that you would be concerned? Pond water is more dangerous than that.

Also, I have further doubts about that reference regarding surface casing. Surface casing is installed during drilling, it's not part of the frac process. You can't take it out, disregard its failure, or go without it after a well is drilled. That's extremely illegal and very highly regulated by government agencies outside the oil business. Any casing failure or even suspicion of casing failure requires immediate shutdown of a well.

Now, as for Halliburton specifically, yeah, they do some bad things. No denying that. They pumped the BP/Macando spill with cement they expected to fail after Schlumberger refused to pump the job due to the cement. The article also notes that Halliburton continued to pump diesel in their frac jobs. It wouldn't surprise me as of a year or two ago. That used to be common practice all around. Now, it's highly illegal here. I doubt they'd be able to get away with it now, at least not in Texas. I'll have to look into that.