Physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of compounds used in hydraulic fracturing

J Hazard Mater. 2014 Jun 30;275:37-54. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2014.04.040. Epub 2014 Apr 25.


Hydraulic fracturing (HF), a method to enhance oil and gas production, has become increasingly common throughout the U.S. As such, it is important to characterize the chemicals found in HF fluids to evaluate potential environmental fate, including fate in treatment systems, and human health impacts. Eighty-one common HF chemical additives were identified and categorized according to their functions. Physical and chemical characteristics of these additives were determined using publicly available chemical information databases. Fifty-five of the compounds are organic and twenty-seven of these are considered readily or inherently biodegradable. Seventeen chemicals have high theoretical chemical oxygen demand and are used in concentrations that present potential treatment challenges. Most of the HF chemicals evaluated are non-toxic or of low toxicity and only three are classified as Category 2 oral toxins according to standards in the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals; however, toxicity information was not located for thirty of the HF chemicals evaluated. Volatilization is not expected to be a significant exposure pathway for most HF chemicals. Gaps in toxicity and other chemical properties suggest deficiencies in the current state of knowledge, highlighting the need for further assessment to understand potential issues associated with HF chemicals in the environment.

Keywords: Chemicals, biocides, crosslinkers; Hydraulic fracturing; Unconventional oil and gas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environmental Pollutants* / chemistry
  • Environmental Pollutants* / toxicity
  • Extraction and Processing Industry*
  • Humans
  • Natural Gas*
  • Petroleum*
  • Risk Assessment


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Natural Gas
  • Petroleum