Specialty Topic
Hydraulic Fracturing

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Hydraulic Fracturing Hazards 101

NEW! FRAC Tree Applied Rigger Training Brochure

Hazard Assessments, the Industrial Hygienist and the Safety Professional

Gas wells may not naturally produce gas at sufficient rates to be economical. In order to improve the economics, drilling and exploration companies use a technique known as hydraulic fracturing to stimulate the well and to enable natural gas and crude oil to move more freely from rock pores to the surface at higher rates. This part of the process to bring a well to production is called well stimulation.

During the "Fracking" process, “fracturing fluids” or “pumping fluids” consisting primarily of water and sand are injected under high pressure through the well bore and into the reservoir. Most of the fracturing fluid (99% of the liquid phase) is water. Some fracturing fluid also contains a “gelling agent” to make the fluid more viscous to carry sand, etc. Frac sand is used to hold the fractures open for the oil or gas to flow. Frac fluids may also contain very limited amounts of other materials depending on the nature of the formation being fractured, and most of the liquids are recovered and do not remain in the ground. Well stimulation is a process that is essential to the viability and productivity of a oil or natural gas well.

During well completion process there are hazards that exist and they must be addressed. These hazards may impact not only employees performing these jobs but nearby communities. The hazards that the community faces make up only a part of the overall hazard mitigation challenges that the industry must minimize. These community or environmental concerns center mainly on the contamination of underground water aquifers by the fact that some of the chemical additives used during Fracking are known or possible human carcinogens. It is important to note that hydraulic fracturing typically occurs several thousand feet below the depth of an water aquifer, and may or may not pose a serious threat. Furthermore there may be concern over hydrocarbon air emissions. In addition to the environmental hazard challenges, there exists many potential hazard exposures to the men and women who perform these well completion operations of a productive well. During typical well completion and stimulation operations individuals may be tasked with perforation and fracturing. During these processes the industrial hygienist must consider that employees carrying out these tasks may be exposed to hazardous noise (continuous and impulsive up to 150dB), vibration, air contaminants such as carbon monoxide from diesel fuel combustion, air contaminants from a variety of chemical additives.

Equipment found on a fracturing job include fluid storage tanks for water and chemicals, proppant transports for silica sand and polymers, blending equipment, pumping equipment for high pressure, and monitoring and control. After this equipment is set up at the wellhead, the industrial hygienist must perform hazard assessments prior to fracturing to determine issues that arise due to specific equipment configuration while taking into account the number of pumping trucks and blending units and how they are positioned onsite. For example, noise monitoring of a single Frac pump truck pumping at full bore produce hazardous noise in excess of 108dBA. Extrapolating this noise data to 20 trucks and an employee may be exposed to over 120dBA continuous noise. Well above the OSHA limits and more importantly in the range of instant temporary and potentially permanent hearing loss and pain threshold. For the occupational health and safety professional there are a host of potential hazards to be found in the well stimulation and completion process that may include overhead lifting operations, material transport operations, chemical blending operations, and emergency response to hydrogen sulfide and NORM.

Juler Group has been performing hazard assessments in the oil and gas industry for many years and understands the challenges to preparing and communicating these extremely valuable tools used in the risk management process. The hazard assessment enables the 1) development of a job safety analysis used in communicating with and training employees, 2) identification and definition of hazards and the development of tools and techniques to eliminate or minimize the impact of the hazard, 3) improvement of work flows and processes down to individual tasks, and 4) development of sustainable and green solutions to the entire process of creating, developing, marketing and supporting innovation.

Contact Juler Group for hazard control services including industrial hygiene, hazard assessment, process safety management and training in the oil and gas industry.

Overhead Lifting Operations during FRAC Tree setup

Frac Tree build technicians must possess special skills and carry proof of training compliance prior to performing Frac Tree stacking during the well stimulation process. One such area of specialized skill and compliance is overhead lifting operations. According to OSHA, overhead lifting operations must be carried out by qualified and certified individuals including riggers, signal persons, mobile crane operators, aerial man lift operators, and others. This means that individuals must receive training outlined in Federal Standards, and they must be evaluated in performing specific operations.

In order to build a Frac Tree several components and sub-assemblies must be rigged-up and lifted into place in order to be stabbed onto the Frac Tree. These parts include manual and hydraulic isolation valves, adapters and lubricators. This process involves an entire lift crew that must coordinate and communicate with crane operators and other third parties. It is important that Frac Tree technicians be trained in the hazards, such as struck-by, specific to this process, the control measures to prevent catastrophic events such as a dropped load, the communicating of a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) for tasks such as working under a suspended load, and to manage the entire lift process including communicating and directing mobile crane operators and preparing for emergency response.

Juler Group had completed comprehensive hazard assessments on these overhead lifting operations and has developed a Applied Rigger Training Course designed specifically for the Frac Tree Technician. If your well stimulation and completion teams have not received competency and applied training contact Juler Group today.

FRAC Stack Rigger Certification (pdf)

Contact Juler Group for Overhead Lifting Operations Certification Training

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