What is the future of fracturing?

Concerns around hydraulic fracturing are being answered

Fracturing trucks and equipment have improved dramatically in recent years.  (Photo courtesy Trican Lab Services and CSUR.)
Fracturing trucks and equipment have improved dramatically in recent years. (Photo courtesy Trican Lab Services and CSUR.)

One of the key debates in the oil and gas industry across North America is centred on the practice of hydraulic fracturing. This long-established well stimulation technique has drawn attention from the public and media as its ongoing development has brought it into closer contact with populated areas. Concerns regarding contaminated aquifers and increased fresh water use have driven much of the discussion, and governments on both sides of the border are taking a hard look at the practice.

As nearly every oil and gas well drilled today is fractured in some manner, it has become an important tool for operators. With greater scrutiny and regulations being considered or introduced in many jurisdictions, companies using hydraulic fracturing are finding it necessary to look towards more environmentally friendly methods of stimulating wells.

While the core technique isn’t likely to change too much, its components could look quite different moving forward thanks to new developments.
Long-time stimulation tool

While hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’) has only been on the public radar for the past few years, it has been an established practice on oil projects since the 1940s. Mike Dawson, president of the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources (CSUR), said that the principles of fracking remain similar on today’s well sites.

“The concept was to see what we could do downhole to improve communication, or provide better roadways, from the wellbore into the formation,” Dawson said. “Some formations that have very good reservoir properties don’t need much stimulation at all, but expanding our exploration area, we find that other rocks contain oil and gas but need a bit of a kickstart to get it flowing.”

Hydraulic fracturing is a simple process at its core: once the wellbore is drilled to the required depth and resource-bearing formations identified, small explosive devices are used to blast openings into the rock of the formation. Fracturing fluid, a mixture of chemicals and proppant (usually sand), is pumped down the hole at extremely high pressure, forcing the formation to crack and creating an easier route for oil or gas to flow into the well.

The oil industry has used fracturing more and more over time as exploration has turned up tighter deposits of hydrocarbons.

“The low-hanging fruit of those very easy reservoirs where stimulations weren’t necessary have gone by,” Dawson said. “If you plotted the production from conventional wells versus unconventional wells, you’d see a very significant trend – as conventional decreased, you will see an increase in hydraulic fracturing.”

As the industry has matured and more unconventional reserves have been tapped, fracking has seen changes in its technology. Pumping equipment has increased in its size and effectiveness, frac fluid has evolved, and – perhaps the biggest change – downhole work has improved with the development of horizontal drilling and borehole isolation allowing multi-stage fracturing operations.

“As companies have changed their technology more towards horizontal drilling, we’ve seen fracturing change as well to be more effective in terms of stimulation of these horizontal wells,” Dawson said.

Multi-stage fracturing is integral to the use of horizontal drilling, he noted. While a vertical well might bore through a 15-metre segment of hydrocarbon-bearing sandstone, a horizontal well can extend hundreds or thousands of metres through the formation. Borehole isolation techniques that allow short segments of the well to be fractured at a time are ideal for taking advantage of that long segment of pay well.

Downhole monitoring is also a greatly improved sector, Dawson noted. Instead of earlier fracturing methods that revolved around pushing fluid down the hole and hoping for the best, today’s fracturing operations have a far greater view of what’s happening in the formation.

“With advanced technology, operators can design a frac job and modify it on the fly,” he said. “They can measure what’s going on downhole in terms of pressure and microseismic events, tailor and adjust it as they go along. In some cases, that can even be done from head office.”

Refinements in all areas
Drilling companies themselves are constantly working to improve their fracturing operations, keeping public concerns in mind as they move forward. The work is a combination of improving the existing techniques and educating the public about how those improvements change the process for the better.
“I talk to people every single day who think I’m lying saying that fracking is safe, that it’s not something we invented two years ago,” explained Chris Faulkner, CEO of Breitling Oil & Gas. “They believe what they read, and what they read is inaccurate. There’s a lot more to clearing that up than just saying ‘you’re wrong and we’re right’.”

Breitling has a substantial portfolio of fracking operations, and much like many companies is searching for answers to public concerns.
Water use and protection is one of the key concerns expressed by the public, so recycling and closed loop fracturing are important steps for his company, Faulkner said.

“Water acquisition is the big argument in the U.S.… we’re not where we want to be yet and still have to reintroduce fresh water, but we are recycling our chemicals and we’re reducing our environmental impact using pad drilling,” he said. “There are a lot of up-front costs... but once you get past those, if you’re doing pad drilling and not moving your rigs around, having everything already there makes the most sense.”

Pad drilling – using horizontal drilling to bore multiple wells from the same location – and on-site recycling are slowly growing in popularity among the industry, Faulkner said. They also open the doors to more opportunities such as closed loop fracking.

“On-site, we have a blender in which we mix sand, chemical and water, and that’s pushed down the hole. When it comes back up, we capture that fluid, and instead of putting it into a reserve pit we flow it into a steel frac tank,” he said. “We capture the fluid and use a filtration process to remove partially dissolved solids, which are disposed of in a wastewater treatment facility safely. Then we reinject water into the fluid and reuse it in the fracturing process.”

Closed loop fracturing means less water is used, there is far less likelihood of fluids leaching down into the aquifer – Faulkner noted that most fracturing operations are done far below the aquifer, so water leaching down from the surface is the most likely potential contamination source – and there is less traffic in terms of trucks moving in and out of the site with fluid and chemical.

Future changes
The future holds changes to fracturing fluids to reduce the potential hazards to the water table. Breitling has been working to develop a frac fluid using food-safe fluids rather than harsh chemicals, and is currently testing their new cocktail in tight gas wells.

“We’ll remove those harmful chemicals within 12 months, we’ll recycle water within 36 months, and I think perhaps sooner than that we’ll have some sort of waterless fracking system that works with most geologies,” Faulkner noted.

While companies and associations are working to answer public concerns, regulators are also giving the technique a look. In Canada, the Quebec government has instituted a moratorium on fracturing as studies are performed, and other provinces have instituted opt-in registration systems for frac fluid chemicals. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has instituted a set of guidelines for companies drilling and fracking gas wells.

The United States has seen more focused regulatory activity. On May 4, the Department of the Interior introduced a proposal requiring companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in their frac fluid. The rule also requires companies to improve their assurances that wellbore integrity is such that fluids are not able to escape during fracturing operations, and to confirm that a water management plan is in place for flowback fluids.

While environmental concerns are being addressed, the jury is still out on a final issue surrounding hydraulic fracturing – whether there is a link between the practice and increased earthquakes. Two studies released recently in the U.S. and UK suggested that deep-well injection of treated water may have been associated with small earthquakes.

“Induced earthquakes have been known of for about 100 years and are very common around underground mining operations, including here in Canada,” noted Kevin Heffernan, CSUR vice-president. “The fact that breaking rocks with hydraulic fracturing creates measurable seismic events shouldn’t surprise anybody.”

Issues such as earthquakes and incidents of damaged aquifers near fracturing operations get higher visibility than the industry’s protective efforts, Faulkner noted. Public education is important for breaking those negative perceptions.

“The industry is late to the party. People have already made up their minds, and we have to convert those naysayers to our side. The reality is that will be very difficult, as their concerns are clearly set forth,” he said. “But, if we’re going to continue to freely access the reserves that are deep within the earth that need fracturing to unlock, we have to be able to do it.”

 

Latest News

Tags
Pipelines

ALLU Screener Crusher Bucket Improves Profitability In Pipeline Applications

The ALLU D-Series Screener Crusher Bucket attachment works with wheel loaders, excavators, skid steers or back hoes to screen, crush, pulverize, aerate, blend, mix, separate, feed and load materials all in one stage—increasing the profitability and efficiency of pipeline construction operations. It is an effective tool for pipeline padding and backfilling, because it allows material to be screened on site and then backfilled directly into a trench, eliminating the need for a dedicated stationary screening machine. The ALLU power adjustment valve promotes powerful startup and rotation allowing the attachment to efficiently screen and crush wet or dry material from 0.60-inch to 6-inch (15-mm to 150-mm) fragment sizes. Straight side plate construction makes the ALLU D-Series Screener Crusher Buckets easy to fill and able to hold a greater volume of material, while the standard power adjustment valve prevents overloads. Locating the hydraulics on the back of the attachment keeps them well protected from damage, while patented fender plates protect the bearings and seals. Its patented construction keeps nuts and bolts away from the material flow. ALLU D-Series Screener Crusher Bucket attachments are available in over 60 models to fit any excavator, wheel loader, skid steer or backhoe.

Read More

Tags
Processing Equipment & Services

Heat Transfer Equipment Tour Truck Demonstrates Alfa Laval Solutions.

Alfa Laval a Heat Transfer equipment maker and maintenance services provider, is touring Canadian cities with a demo truck from June to September, 2014. Atlantic cities in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were included in the first leg of the tour. More Canadian stops will be added in September based on requests for demonstration.

The tour truck shows examples of compact, welded and plate Heat Exchanger system are cutaways of models and exchanger plate configurations. The unique trailer is completely self contained and can be setup in any facility parking lot, with no connection to electricity or water.

Read More

Tags
Pipelines

PLM releases new 71H pipelayer.

PipeLine Machinery International has announced the release of the 71H pipelayer. With the support of Caterpillar and the engineering expertise of Vanguard Equipment Inc., the challenge was met to create a utility-capacity pipelayer in the Tier 4 Interim/EU Stage IIIB class, designed for lifting 27 215 kg (60,000 lb.) and engineered to meet the most exacting standards in the world.

Features include:

  • Standard electro-hydraulic tractor control, dedicated hydraulics, differential steering and machine control systems.
  • Boom and hook draw works are driven by independent hydraulic winches.
  • The compact design of the counterweight provides maximum lift capability and optimum weight distribution.
  • The drawbar is able to accommodate a wide range of attachments.
  •  Roll Over Protection Structure (ROPS) and Quick Drop function on load line control.
  • Heavy duty undercarriage.
  • Standard 600 mm (23.6 in.) single grouser shoe, LGP configuration.
  • Standard 6.1 m (20 ft.) boom with large box section.
  • Read More

    Dexter + Chaney expands access to Spectrum with its new customizable Dashboard

    Dexter + Chaney, providers of Spectrum Construction Software, has announced that they will use Spectrum's customizable Dashboard to expand access to all employees of companies that use Spectrum. Without the need to purchase additional licenses, a company can choose to give access to the Spectrum Dashboard to any and all employees.

    “The value of software isn’t just in the depth of its features,” said John Chaney, CEO of Dexter + Chaney. “Value also depends on the breadth of accessibility. Everyone in a company needs reliable, up-to-date information to do their job. With the new all-access Dashboard, Spectrum makes it significantly easier to keep all employees informed, keep them equipped with information, and help them work better together.”

    Read More

    Join our mailing list

    Latest headlines
    delivered to you weekly

    Oil & Gas Product News

    New Sunnen HTG series tube hones

    Built rugged for high-production requirements of the oil and gas industry, HTG series tube hones offer high reliability, flexibility, and 200+ in3/hr stock removal rate for part lengths up to 44.7 ft (13.6 m), ID's up to 24 in (609.6 mm)

    Sunnen's new HTG series tube hones are designed as oil field workhorses with high-volume throughput and increased part capacity. The standard HTG-10000 is capable of handling standard part lengths up to 44.7 feet (13.6 m) and weights up to 17,600 lbs. (8000 kg). The HTG's ID range is 2 to 24 inches (50.8 to 609.6 mm), double that of previous generation machines, with an OD capacity of 26 inches (660.4 mm) standard, and up to 48 inches (1219.2 mm) as an option. The machine is ideal for down hole equipment applications, such as drilling jars, pumps/motors and hangers, and large hydraulic cylinders like those found on offshore oil platform stabilizers. A new proportional load control hydraulic system enables maximum utilization of hydraulic power, delivering power where needed during operation for maximum efficiency. The system can deliver up to 40 hp (29.83 kW) to the spindle and up to 18 hp (13.42 kW) to the tool stroking system, for metal removal rates of 200+ in3/hr (3500 cm3/hr) using superabrasives in steel.

    Read More

    Tags
    Pipelines

    TransCanada Receives Regulatory Approval for Northern Courier Pipeline Project

    TransCanada Corporation has announced that the Alberta Energy Regulator has approved TransCanada's application to construct and operate the Northern Courier Pipeline Project (Northern Courier).

    "We are pleased that the Alberta Energy Regulator has approved Northern Courier, which will be a critical piece of infrastructure to support the long-term plans for growth and increased production from the Alberta oil sands," said Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and chief executive officer. "We currently expect construction on Northern Courier to begin in the third quarter of 2014, with it being ready for service by 2017."

    Read More

    Tags
    Industry News

    Inter Pipeline Announces Completion of First Phase of Polaris Pipeline Expansion

    Inter Pipeline Ltd. (“Inter Pipeline”)  is pleased to announce that a major component of the $1.4 billion Polaris pipeline system expansion has been successfully completed and placed into commercial service. Accordingly, Inter Pipeline has begun generating cash flow under its 20-year diluent transportation agreement with the FCCL Partnership (“FCCL”), a business venture between Cenovus Energy and ConocoPhillips Canada Resources Corp.

    Diluent shipments are expected to commence shortly from Inter Pipeline’s Lamont pump station to FCCL’s Foster Creek and Christina Lake oil sands production facilities utilizing a new 290 kilometre, 30-inch diameter mainline and associated pipeline laterals. In aggregate, FCCL has contracted for 350,000 barrels per day of firm ship-or-pay capacity on the new mainline, which will generate approximately $90 million in annual EBITDA for Inter Pipeline. These shipping arrangements represent approximately 50% of the newly installed expansion capacity. Inter Pipeline is aggressively pursuing opportunities to attract additional third party shippers to the system.

    Read More

    Precision Drilling Corporation announces alliance with Schlumberger

    Precision Drilling Corporation has announced that it has entered into a strategic technology and service agreement and marketing alliance with Schlumberger, the world's leading provider of oilfield services. The agreement aims to increase the industrialization of unconventional drilling in North America through an engineered approach that utilizes Precision’s Tier 1 drilling rigs and allows Precision access to Schlumberger’s bottomhole assembly and services. The agreement applies to Canada and the Lower 48 states in the U.S. and includes contract drilling services, downhole drilling and measurement technology, engineering expertise and operational training.

    Through this agreement, Precision will continue to expand its integrated directional drilling services utilizing Schlumberger’s downhole tools and related services supported by drilling engineering and modeling, component integration, industry leading subsurface knowledge and expertise, and high-quality measurements.

    Read More

    Tags
    Portable Power

    Custom generator packages that power mobile buildings

    HIPOWER SYSTEMS, a manufacturer of power-generation and power distribution equipment in the U.S. and Canada, announced it has worked with a leading HIPOWER SYSTEMS distributor, Simson Maxwell, to develop five custom generator packages that power mobile buildings. At the heart of each package is HIPOWER SYSTEMS’ HMW 810 T6 generator, which is driven by a heavy-duty, 4-cycle, direct-injection engine from MTU. Known for their economy of operation and maximum reliability and durability, these engines are capable of full-rated load acceptance in one step. For its mobile buildings, Simson Maxwell uses two 810 T6 units to create a twin 800kW, dual-prime power package that it installs into the prefabricated buildings, producing a ready-made solution for a variety of worker accommodations and facilities. 

    “These generators, used to power our mobile buildings, are the perfect choice for a variety of typical ‘camp’ solutions,” said Simson Maxwell President Daryl Kruper. “Because many of these mobile buildings will be powering small communities of workers in very remote regions of Northern Canada, generator reliability and durability is crucial. We use HIPOWER SYSTEMS’ equipment because it has proven itself to be of the highest quality.”

    Read More

    Tags
    Transportation

    Maverick Oilfield Services Ltd. Expands its Transportation Division

    Maverick Oilfield Services Ltd. a provider of oil and gas mechanical construction, maintenance and transportation services has announced that effective on July 1, 2014, it has acquired all shares of Latigo Trucking Ltd.

    "As Maverick looks to further strengthen its transportation business segment, the opportunity to add Latigo to our portfolio of companies enhances our growth strategy. Finding a transportation company with similar values made this combination move forward with ease. Latigo enables Maverick to focus on building this segment of our business, as we continue to execute our strategy to become a leader in the industry," says Chris Challis, CEO of Maverick.

    Read More