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
Tools

OMAX 60120 JetMachining Center Heightens Complex-Part Processing Capabilities

OMAX Corporation will showcase the fast, precise cutting performance of the OMAX 60120 JetMachining Center in booth 1694 at the Global Petroleum Show in Stampede Park in Calgary. OMAX will pair the machine with a 50 hp EnduroMAX Pump, A-Jet cutting head and Rotary Axis to demonstrate its ability to cut complex parts for use throughout the oil and gas industry.

Like all OMAX JetMachining Centers, the bridge-style 60120 JetMachining Center comes equipped with the company’s intuitive Intelli-MAX Software Suite that, when combined with the powerful, highly efficient EnduroMAX Pump, provides higher cutting speeds and greater precision than competitive abrasive waterjet machines. The machine features a high accuracy of motion, the 60120 successfully accommodates components measuring up to 5 feet by 10 feet (1.52 meters by 3.05 meters).

Read More

Tags
Tools

The Advantages of the BURNDY IN-LINE PATMD6 Series Meets the Comfort of a Lightweight, Ergonomic Pistol-Grip Style Tool

BURNDY, a leading manufacturer and provider of connector and tooling solutions to the industrial, energy, construction, telecommunications, petrochemical, data center, and transportation industries, is pleased to announce an exciting addition to its PATRIOT family of premier and reliable installation tools with the introduction of the PAT500SJ Series — a Pistol-Grip Style 6-Ton 18V Lithium-Ion battery powered crimper with interchangeable cutting jaws available. This new tool offers superior balance and advanced ergonomics reducing operator fatigue.

The PAT500SJ Series accepts all BURNDY standard “W” and “X” style crimping dies and offers Copper crimping capacity from #8 wire up to 500 kcmil and #8 wire to 350 kcmil for Aluminum cable. With the interchangeable cutter jaw, the PAT500SJ allows for Copper cuts up to 500 kcmil, Aluminum cuts up to 636 kcmil and ACSR cuts up to 556 kcmil.

Read More

McElroy’s Giant Fusion Machine Vehicle Tackles 2000mm Pipe Jobs

McElroy has unleashed the Talon 2000, designed to revolutionize the way large-diameter thermoplastic pipelines are built.

The Talon 2000 — McElroy’s biggest and boldest fusion machine to date — has the unique ability to lift 2000mm pipe from the ground with its powerful jaws as the machine adjusts its height and orientation to correctly align and fuse pipe.

Read More

Tags
Engines and Powertrains

Caterpillar Achieves First EPA Mobile and Stationary Certification for Natural Gas, Spark-Ignited Cat G3306B Generator Set

Caterpillar Oil & Gas has announced the Cat G3306B generator set has received United States EPA Mobile & Stationary Certification, the first Cat power solution to achieve this distinction. Primarily used in land production applications, the G3306B certifiedoilfield gas generator set is available with apower ratings of 131 ekW @ 60 Hz. Customers can order the EPA certified G3306B generator set through the Cat dealer network as a design to order solution.

“Our customers have been asking for an EPA certified solution in this specific power node and we’re pleased the G3306B certified generator set is now available to them,” Eric Seubring, Caterpillar Oil & Gas engineering project team lead stated. “For customers, key benefits of a mobile & stationary EPA certified solution include increased flexibility to move power throughout regions providing enhanced mobility of their fleet and the ability to operate power in island mode.”

Read More

Join our mailing list

Latest headlines
delivered to you weekly

Oil & Gas Product News
Tags
Industry News

Volant’s Growth Spurred by Product & Service Demand

The Volant Group of Companies (Volant) has proudly announced expansion of its operations by taking lease of a new building space immediately North of its current headquarters in Edmonton, Alberta. Volant has signed a long-term lease for an additional 36,000 ft² of space, bringing its total warehouse and office space to approximately 124,000 ft². This move is due to increased operations and staff expansion over the past year and to meet an ever increasing demand for its innovative product offerings within the oil & gas industry. Volant officially moved into the new space March 2nd, 2015.

“We moved into our flagship facility about four years ago and with the success we have experienced we are now compelled to expand our operations,” stated Dan Shute, President of Volant. “Volant has been evaluating its need for additional space for the past year to support our growth projections during the next 5 years. We are confident that this additional building space will meet both ours and our customers’ needs now and into the future.”

Read More

Tags
Industry News

Jereh Sees CO2 Stimulation as a New Trend for Green Oilfield Development

Jereh Group says to pay more attention to CO2 stimulation technology and sees it as a new trend for oilfield environmental development in light of environment protection and high production efficiency.

 In 2014, Jereh operated its CO2 fracturing in Jilin, China to have a region of production potential increase with over 15,538 cbft liquefied CO2 and 370 cbft proppant injection at 9,425psi working pressure, which leads to the largest CO2 fracturing operation in China.

Read More

New Entry-Level Argo Models Now Equipped With EFI Engines

Ontario Drive & Gear Ltd. (ODG) has introduced two new models of its ARGO Frontier line-up, featuring new Kohler engines with electronic fuel injection (EFI). With EFI engines, the amphibious Frontier 6-wheeled and 8-wheeled UTVs now offer unmatched high-altitude performance along with easier, dependable cold-weather starts, significant fuel savings and simpler maintenance.

These two new models, priced as entry-level vehicles for new ARGO owners, complete ODG’s transition from carbureted engines to EFI engines for its complete range of ARGO extreme terrain vehicles.

Read More

Tags
Safety and Security

3M Introduces New Fall Protection Full Body Harness with Scotchgard Protector

3M has released its newest fall protection full body harness line developed with 3M’s revolutionary stain repellent, Scotchgard Protector. The protectant is applied to the fibers of the new Economy Harness webbing to help repel liquids and prevent stains. This innovative intersection of 3M technology provides a durable, all-purpose harness for general construction, oil and gas, utilities, roofing and HVAC where performance, protection and comfort is paramount.

Rated to 400 pounds, the new Economy Harness line has expanded size offerings including XS, Universal and XXL. Easy-to adjust straps make it adjustable for many body sizes, shapes and weight and the lightweight materials offer increased comfort, flexibility and ease-of-use for wearers.

Read More

Tags
Equipment Management & Maintenance

J D Neuhaus Hoists Give Tank Cleaning a Lift

Typical J D Neuhaus Mini 250kg air operated hoist, shown in manual trolley, suitable for tank cleaning operations.
Typical J D Neuhaus Mini 250kg air operated hoist, shown in manual trolley, suitable for tank cleaning operations.

More and more companies are turning to air-operated hoists for effective ways to clean storage tanks. These innovative lifting devices, which offer precise load placement control through convenient hand pendants, are being used successfully for truck tank cleaning operations worldwide. In fact, J D Neuhaus air-operated hoists are deployed in a wide variety of transport tank cleaning applications, including road and rail transit tankers and marine transporters.

Typically, injector heads with nozzles are used to clean inside these inherently dirty vessels by dispensing hot/cold water or steam at high pressures. If required, sometimes solvents are also included in the cleaning solution. JDN hoists lift, support and accurately position the injector heads to ensure a thorough clean. For ease of traversing, overhead rail trolleys are mounted to the hoists, to ensure the entire internal area of the tank is efficiently washed and cleaned.

Read More

Tags
Equipment Management & Maintenance

Calhoun Super Structure Unveils Container Line Fabric Building Series

Calhoun has announce the official unveiling of a new building series, The Container (CL). This is the first-ever fabric building in the industry designed and engineered exclusively for container-use only. The CL buildings series is engineered site-specific to suit any location in North America, and can be used as either a temporary or permanent structure.

Available in widths of 32’, 36’, 40’, and 50’, the CL building series will be a perfect addition to those looking for an affordable structure with a high return on investment. Calhoun’s standard 40’x40’ CL building can be installed in just two days, allowing you to get to work ASAP! Not only is the installation process quick and simple, but the structure can also be rapidly deployed, so relocating your work area is a breeze.

Read More