On March 23rd, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) revised the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for respirable crystalline silica dust downward from 0.1 mg/m3 to 0.05 mg/m3 effective June 23rd, 2016. The hydraulic fracturing industry has until June 23rd, 2018, just two years after the effective date to comply, with the deadline for implementing engineering controls for silica dust set for June 23rd, 2021. OSHA’s regulations also include medical monitoring requirements that must be met by 2018, long before the grace period for implementation of engineered solutions expires.
While the hydraulic fracturing industry has already applied measures to control respirable crystalline silica dust, OSHA’s new regulations require further technological advancements in dust control, since existing systems may not adequately reduce silica dust levels down to the new required PEL. Therefore to ensure worker safety and OSHA compliance, hydraulic fracturing operations must work towards implementing an improved silica dust control solution as soon as possible.
Until now, the industry has depended primarily on two options to reduce silica dust – mechanical vacuum systems and personal protective equipment (PPE). Both options, however, present significant disadvantages, posing problems onsite for the operators who rely on them.
In their current form, mechanical vacuum systems struggle to meet the new PEL for silica dust at all transfer points. By their very nature, these systems also increase the risk of work site injuries due to tripping and other mechanical equipment-related hazards. They occupy valuable real estate on the frac site, require regular maintenance, and incur ongoing costs regardless of down time.
OSHA no longer considers PPE an adequate first line of defense to protect workers against silica dust for several reasons. First and foremost, PPE is limited to protecting only the individual operators who use it, leaving the surrounding environment vulnerable to silica dust exposure. Secondly, proper use and maintenance of PPE is heavily dependent on individual compliance which is difficult to enforce, leaving employees at risk for exposure to unacceptably high levels of silica dust.
A third option has recently emerged as a viable engineered solution for reducing respirable crystalline silica dust to within OSHA’s new PEL requirements – chemical coatings. One such solution is SandTec®, developed by ArrMaz, a global leader in dust control coating technology for more than 45 years. SandTec is a proppant coating technology that not only meets OSHA’s new PEL requirements, but also eliminates the disadvantages of mechanical vacuum systems and PPE. It is easily applied to frac sand using a proprietary application system with no drying or curing required, and provides stable, long-lasting silica dust protection throughout the hydraulic fracturing supply chain.
SandTec works by applying a microscopic coating on sand proppant which minimizes frac sand attrition and limits abrasion during transport. By adding the coating to the sand early in the supply chain, dust reduction benefits can be realized at multiple transfer points without having to install bulky equipment at each location. As a result, this technology not only reduces silica dust at the drill site, but also throughout the supply chain from the sand mine to the well head.
SandTec has been implemented in multiple well trials where personal air monitoring shows that it reduces respirable crystalline silica dust levels by up to 99%. Testing during trials demonstrate that SandTec reduces silica dust to levels at or below OSHA’s new action limit of 0.025 mg/m3, surpassing the new 0.05 mg/m3 limit required.
SandTec has also been evaluated on a wide range of frac fluid chemistries and has proven to be compatible with all tested. It is an environmentally safe coating that is non-toxic, bio-renewable, and bio-degradable, composed of ingredients that are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Oil and Gas industry has proven to be an innovation leader, driving the development of technologies to meet the challenges of an ever-changing environment. SandTec technology for silica dust control is another example of an innovation developed to meet the needs of this dynamic market. SandTec’s ability to reduce silica dust with easy integration into the supply chain is helping the industry meet its latest regulatory challenge.
To find out more about SandTec, email SandTec@ArrMaz.com.
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This article also appears in Issue 4 of Shale Gas International Magazine.