Quantifying the Economic Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing Proppant Selection in Light of Occupational Particulate Exposure Risk and Functional Requirements

Open Access
Agrawal, Sidharth
Graduate Program:
Energy and Mineral Engineering
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
August 03, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Jeremy M. Gernand, Thesis Advisor
  • Proppant selection
  • Hydraulic fracturing
  • Risk analysis
  • Silica exposure
  • Health-related cost
  • Occupational particulate exposure risk
Selection of the proppant material for hydraulic fracturing is an important design choice to optimize the production of oil and natural gas. Some of these proppants are made up of substances like silica (quartz sand), alumina, resin coated silica, ceramics, and others. These materials can be toxic to varying degrees and lead to health problems in the employees handling them primarily due to inhalation exposure. Factors affecting the selection of proppants are closure stress of reservoir, required conductivity, and permeability of the deposit. With increased depth of wells, several types of proppants have been developed to meet the formation characteristics for achieving higher production. Existing research describes the effect of silica on human health but little research has been done to determine the risk-reduction and social-cost-effectiveness associated with using alternative proppants in light of the health risks. This study quantifies the relative risks or benefits to human health by the use of these proppants through an economic analysis taking the health-related economic impact into consideration as well as technical attributes. Results show that the use of each ton of silica-based proppants results in $123 of external costs from fatalities and non-fatal illness arising due to exposure to silica for a crew handing 60,000 tons of proppants. It also suggests that silica-based proppants could be economically replaced by less harmful, more expensive alternatives for hydraulic fracturing crews handling less than 60,000 tons of proppant each year, provided the technical requirements are met.