Mercury in natural gas
By: Lionel Milberger
25 March 2012
It is known that mercury, in several possible forms, can and does exist in natural gas reservoirs and flow streams. (See bibliography below) Mercury is generally recognized as a pollutant for human habitation.
There is no known requirement for natural gas owners in Texas to conduct testing for mercury (so as to identify and quantify this material) and to make these results available for public scrutiny.
It is known that mercury, sourced in natural gas, can and does find its way into our environment, including our homes, the air, land and water. One such avenue to our water aquifers can be through leaks & seeps from underground sources (such as gas wells) and eventually into drinking water aquifers.
There should be a requirement for appropriate testing for mercury in the liquid or gas of all drilled wells (which can or will produce natural gas) and for that test results to be made public. Further study may show that down-hole sampling is appropriate to achieve this testing.
- Spiric, Zdravko. “Innovative Approach to the Mercury Control During Natural Gas Processing”, Proceedings of Engineering Technology Conference on Energy (ETCE) 2001, Paper number ETCE2001-17085.
- Smith, C., et.al., “Mercury, the Volatile Surprise in Gas Processing”, Paper #P2004.13, Gas Processors Association, presented at Annual Convention, New Orleans, La., March 2004.
- Carnell, P. & Openshaw, P., “Mercury Distribution in Gas Processing Plants”, Paper #P2004.12, presented at Annual Convention of Gas Processors Association, March 2004.
- Lewis, Larry, “Measurement of Mercury in Natural Gas Streams”, Gas Processors Association, 2006.
- Wongkasemjit, S. & Wasantakorn, A., “Laboratory Study of Corrosion Effects of Dimethyl-Mercury on Natural Gas Processing Equipment”, Journal Corrosion Science and Engineering, 1,12(1999).
- Ruddy, Tom & Goethe, Al., “State of Mercury Removal Technology”, presented at the Gas Processors 86th Convention, San Antonio, Tx., March 12, 2007.
- Jansen, Marcha & Foster, Andrea I, “Mercury Removal from Hydrocarbon Liquids”, Gas Processors Association, paper #2007.11.
About Sharon Wilson
Sharon Wilson is considered a leading citizen expert on the impacts of shale oil and gas extraction. She is the go-to person whether it’s top EPA officials from D.C., national and international news networks, or residents facing the shock of eminent domain and the devastating environmental effects of natural gas development in their backyards.
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elizabeth burns says
We have a lot of mercury in the gas in the Kelsey field. I don’t know that it would get all the way to someone’s stove top because mercury gets stuck on the aluminum components of processing equipment and tanks. This is a maintenance nightmare and can close entire gas plants. For this reason, chemicals are usually mixed in that bond with mercury and then injected into the disposal well. (before the gas gets to the processing plant) Of course, injecting mercury into a salt water disposal well is not permitted – but no tests are done for mercury so no rule is broken. Does that make sense. You don’t test for mercury – you just screen it out with chemicals and then dispose of it. I think its more of a concern for people living in production zones than the consumer. In some cases, the companies even use a sort of aluminum tightly woven screen/sponge to filter gas and the mercury bonds to the aluminum in the screen. Of course then the screen is just discarded in the dump or buried. Mercury is really expensive – maybe $100,000 a bbl. The companies should save it instead of illegally dumping it in pits and disposal wells. They don’t because it is not their business plan. Bureaucrats.
Yeah, makes perfect sense. Don’t test the drilling waste for mercury before you spread it on farmland. If they tested for it, they might find some and then what?
Right on Tx Sharon–spread it on the land using LandFarming and also there’s NORM’s–(radioactive material). We get it all in Tx.
Mercury can mess up gas production & treatment equipment like Elizabeth said, but it can also attack metals in end user’s gas equipment:
“Elemental mercury forms an amalgam with the surface layer of the metal it contacts. With aluminum, the amalgam is much weaker than the metal itself and is often referred to as an embrittlement. ”
Yes, this can lead to metal breaking, so it’s a gas leak hazard, as well as a poison.
Makes me wonder which is worse, so far as mercury in our environment—-that so called “clean natural gas” or dirty coal?
Didn’t understand the remark about mercury being expensive- wholesale its less than 10 bucks a pound! There hasn’t been any mercury mining in the US in 20 yrs.
Hi I am from Bolivia and I make an study about mercury in natural gas ’cause here we already had one case of intoxication of 25 workers in a gas processing plant in 2009, there are a lot of results in the concentration in water of past years that can be dangerous to health… there are also a lot of information about the intoxication of this workers and I believe that there are 3 that have a lot of consequenses for their intoxication still to this year…