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


Akzonobel’s International Brand Launches Enviroline 2405 Hybrid Epoxy Technology into North America

AkzoNobel’s International protective coatings brand has launched Enviroline 2405, an advanced hybrid epoxy lining system into North America. The high temperature, abrasion resistant coating was specially designed to offer exceptional flexibility, durability and protection in a single coat.

Enviroline 2405 is formulated as an ultra-high solids, low volatile organic compound (VOC) 0.37 lbs/gal (45g/Lt), two component polycyclamine-cured epoxy for a faster and easier installation in a variety of oil and gas, chemical, mining, and water and wastewater environments. Applied at ambient temperature, with either standard airless or plural component spray equipment, Enviroline 2405 provides a rapid hard cure in six hours, with a return to service in about 48 hours. The heavy duty lining system is ideal for use in process vessels and tanks operating at temperatures up to 302°F (150°C), and can resist continuous immersion in a range of chemicals including crude oil up to 176°F (80°C).

Read More

Industry News

Schneider Electric Software Supports Wearable Technology

Wonderware SmartGlance software from Schneider Electric makes it easier than ever to monitor, visualize and analyze real-time plant and industrial process data via mobile devices, even the wearable kind.
Wonderware SmartGlance software from Schneider Electric makes it easier than ever to monitor, visualize and analyze real-time plant and industrial process data via mobile devices, even the wearable kind.

Schneider Electric, a global specialist in energy management, has released Wonderware SmartGlance 2014 R2 mobile reporting software. The updated version includes a host of new features that make monitoring, visualizing and analyzing real-time plant and industrial process data via mobile devices easier than ever. These features include support for wearable technologies, a modern user interface for any browser, self-serve registration, support for multiple time zones for a global user base and full import and export capabilities for even faster deployment.

“Plant personnel are now mobile so they require immediate access to real-time operations information via their smart phone, tablet or whatever mobile device they carry,” said Saadi Kermani, Wonderware SmartGlance product manager, Schneider Electric. “Wonderware SmartGlance 2014 R2 software delivers highly relevant information coming from industrial data sources to targeted plant workers in the form of personalized charts, reports and alerts. It provides them with the flexibility they need to view and instantly collaborate around real-time plant data on any device so they can make rapid, effective decisions.”

Read More

Sponsored Content

The First Tight Oil and Shale Gas Summit

Oil Gas Product News Readers Save 15% on Registration for 'Tight Oil & Shale Gas Well Site Facilities Design Western Canada 2014,' Meeting December 9-10 in Calgary, Canada.

As the economics of well site facilities become increasingly scrutinized, facilities engineers are under greater pressure to optimize costs and scheduling times.

Read More

Safety and Security

Pelican Introduces Three New Safety-Approved Headlights

Pelican 2755 LED Headlight
Pelican 2755 LED Headlight

To offer tough lightweight, safety-approved lighting options, Pelican Products, Inc., the global leader in the design and manufacture of advanced portable lighting and high-performance protective case solutions, has introduced three new safety approved headlights.

Based on the established models from their Pelican ProGear consumer line, each headlight is Class I Div. 1 approved for hazardous environments, available in either black or safety yellow and equipped with a wide range of features, allowing for multiple applications.

Read More

Industry News

Weatherford Canada Received Silver Award for Safest Employer

Weatherford Canada plc, recently announced that it is the recipient of the Silver Award for Canada's Safest Employer in the oil and gas industry. The fourth annual gala, hosted by Canadian Occupational Safety magazine, recognized 27 winners across various industries, including two silver winners in the oil and gas category.

Around the globe, Weatherford is a dynamic force behind raising performance standards. The Company’s Service Quality, Health, Safety, Security, and Environment (QHSSE) programs aim to provide consistent and reliable operations while managing risks for oil and gas clients. This system empowers each individual at Weatherford to deliver on their commitments to the Company, their co-workers, and clients.

Read More

Join our mailing list

Latest headlines
delivered to you weekly

Oil & Gas Product News
Industry News

Offshore Solution Underlines Moyno Versatility

The wide variety of applications that can be accommodated by Moyno progressing cavity (PC) pumps has been highlighted by an offshore application. Ten of Moyno’s 2000 Series pumps have been ordered for a new fleet of offshore supply vessels that will be used to service drilling rigs worldwide.

The 2000 Series pumps will be fitted to 10 new HOS MAX 320 supply vessels which Mississippi-based VT Halter Marine is building for Hornbeck Offshore. The pumps will transfer up to 24-pound liquid mud to and from the vessels, which will be off-loaded when they reach the drilling rigs.

Read More


SignalFire Wireless Telemetry Product Catalog Offers Monitoring and Control Solutions for Challenging Environments

A range of telemetry products that support robust, long-distance wireless communications in challenging, large scale environments such as those found in oil and gas, agriculture, water systems, forestry and public infrastructures are outlined in the SignalFire Wireless Telemetry Product Catalog.

At the heart of every telemetry solution is the SignalFire Remote Sensing System (SFRSS) that consists of a gateway and remote nodes that interface with sensors, giving asset managers access to valuable field data to control devices such as pumps, valves, fans, and lighting.

Read More

Instrumentation, Systems & Automation

Wired CX and Wireless CXT Gas Detectors Receive ATEX Approval

Rugged and mobile, wired CX and wireless CXT-Series gas detectors come equipped with either an electrochemical or infrared sensor.
Rugged and mobile, wired CX and wireless CXT-Series gas detectors come equipped with either an electrochemical or infrared sensor.

Detcon, an IST company, is pleased to announce that its wired CX and wireless CXT Series gas detectors have received ATEX Approval for Zone 1, potentially explosive atmospheres. Model CX and CXT detectors are available in two sensor technologies; infrared (IR) for monitoring combustible hydrocarbons, and electrochemical (DM) for monitoring toxic gases and oxygen.

CX and CXT gas detectors are a key component of the popular Site Sentinel System - a stand-alone or wireless gas detection system that offers quick deployment for semi-permanent and temporary gas monitoring applications. These "environmentally bulletproof" gas detectors are designed for use in heavy industrial environments and include an electro-polished 316 stainless steel housing with fully encapsulated electronics and dual layer surge protection. These details in design virtually eliminate the threat of outside damage to internal components due to water ingress, corrosion, vibration and transient spikes.

Read More

Equipment Management & Maintenance

Introducing Fluke’s First HD Infrared Camera

Fluke Corporation has launched its highest resolution infrared camera ever: the Fluke TiX Series Infrared Cameras. The TiX1000 (with 1024 x 768 resolution), TiX660, and TiX640 (both 640 x 480) feature up to ten times the on-camera pixels as are available on standard 320 x 240 cameras and a large 5.6-inch articulating display to help quickly identify issues while still in the field. The TiX Expert Series delivers highly detailed image quality, the most advanced focusing options available on one infrared camera, and the versatility to capture accurate measurements from targets that are challenging, dangerous, or moving too fast.

The SuperResolution mode feature on the TiX1000 and TiX660 cameras increase image resolution, when viewed in the included SmartView software, four times more than what you get on camera. For example, SuperResolution reveals HD quality in the TiX1000 images with 3.1 million pixels. The TiX660 SuperResolution images have 1.2 million pixels. This higher resolution helps better identify potential issues that might have been missed with other infrared cameras.

Read More

Industry News

New Oil and Gas Partnership Between Duoline Technologies and Petrosmith Announced

Duoline Technologies and Petrosmith recently announced new partnership to serve the oil and gas marketplace with fiberglass internal lining systems proven to extend the service life of oilfield tubulars from the high costs of corrosion damage.

Duoline 20 manufactured by Duoline Technologies, is a filament-wound, fiberglass-reinforced epoxy liner that reliably resists corrosion. Since 1964, more than 100 million feet of Duoline liners have been successfully installed worldwide as a more robust alternative to plastic coatings, and as a high-performance, high-value, cost-effective alternative to Corrosion Resistant Alloys.

Read More

Instrumentation, Systems & Automation

Walchem W600 Series Controller

Walchem has announce the new Walchem W600 Series Controller. Powerful programming gives you complete control of chemical metering pumps and valves in a broad range of water treatment applications.

With easy, icon-based programming on the large touchscreen display, the W600 can be configured to control up to six complex functions.

Read More