Chemical Degradation of Polyacrylamide during Hydraulic Fracturing

Boya Xiong, Zachary Miller, Selina Roman-White, Travis Tasker, Benjamin Farina, Bethany Piechowicz, William D. Burgos, Prachi Joshi, Liang Zhu, Christopher A. Gorski, Andrew L. Zydney, Manish Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Polyacrylamide (PAM) based friction reducers are a primary ingredient of slickwater hydraulic fracturing fluids. Little is known regarding the fate of these polymers under downhole conditions, which could have important environmental impacts including decisions on strategies for reuse or treatment of flowback water. The objective of this study was to evaluate the chemical degradation of high molecular weight PAM, including the effects of shale, oxygen, temperature, pressure, and salinity. Data were obtained with a slickwater fracturing fluid exposed to both a shale sample collected from a Marcellus outcrop and to Marcellus core samples at high pressures/temperatures (HPT) simulating downhole conditions. Based on size exclusion chromatography analyses, the peak molecular weight of the PAM was reduced by 2 orders of magnitude, from roughly 10 MDa to 200 kDa under typical HPT fracturing conditions. The rate of degradation was independent of pressure and salinity but increased significantly at high temperatures and in the presence of oxygen dissolved in fracturing fluids. Results were consistent with a free radical chain scission mechanism, supported by measurements of sub-μM hydroxyl radical concentrations. The shale sample adsorbed some PAM (∼30%), but importantly it catalyzed the chemical degradation of PAM, likely due to dissolution of Fe2+ at low pH. These results provide the first evidence of radical-induced degradation of PAM under HPT hydraulic fracturing conditions without additional oxidative breaker.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-336
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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