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
Pumps

Mouvex Debuts New Models of Abaque Series Peristaltic (Hose) Pumps at ACHEMA Show

Mouvex, part of PSG, a Dover company and a leading manufacturer of positive displacement pumps, is pleased to announce the addition of new models of its Abaque Series Peristaltic (Hose) Pumps. Unveiled at ACHEMA 2015, these new Abaque models incorporate a stronger and durable rotor design and innovative hose holding system while featuring a fresh, new look of orange and black.

Abaque pumps meet the challenging requirements of the chemicals industry, thanks in part to its seal-free design that eliminates leaks and product contamination. These self-priming pumps can run in forward or reverse and offer suction-lift capabilities to 25.5 feet (9 meters), as well as the ability to run dry without adversely affecting performance, pressure and accuracy (no slip). Abaque pumps are available in ductile iron and stainless steel construction, allowing higher discharge pressure up to 217 psi (15 bar).

Read More

Tags
Industry News

Agreement Provides Efficient Solutions for Effective Water Treatment in Oil & Gas Production

DuPont Water Technologies (DuPont) and SnS Resources, Inc. has announced that the companies have entered into a strategic agreement that will provide oil and gas producers with access to efficient solutions for effective water treatment. The agreement authorizes SnS Resources the ability to implement the DuPont Partner Program within the United States, Mexico and Canada.

The DuPont Partner Program offers effective chlorine dioxide (ClO2) chemicals, customized equipment, recognized training programs and expert technical services to the oil and gas market for upstream and midstream applications. Partnership of these two organizations will offer the O&G market and companies in the field of water management strategies to meet production demands at a valued price point in addition to offering important environmental and safety benefits.

Read More

Tags
Pipes, Pumps & Valves

Eaton’s Variable Speed Drive Pump Solution Enables Significant Energy Savings in Industrial Machinery

Power management company Eaton has announced a new variable speed drive (VSD) pump solution that can provide up to 70 percent energy savings for equipment in the machine building, manufacturing, oil and gas and marine industries, depending on the machine duty cycle. The industrial pump solution, available in open- or closed-loop motion control configurations, reduces operational costs by allowing quieter machine operation, reducing or eliminating cooling needs and allowing for pump downsizing.

The complete VSD solution can include one or more pumps, selected from an offering of PVM variable piston pumps, Hydrokraft variable piston pumps or VMQ fixed vane pumps. Together with the smart control of Eaton Variable Speed drives, such as the PowerXL DG1 general purpose drive or SPX 9000 high performance drive, the system can be controlled to match the precise load requirements of the current duty cycle.

Read More

Tags
Instrumentation, Systems & Automation

Honeywell Honors Top Channel Partners In the Americas

Andy D’Amelio, VP Sales-Americas (far left), Jerry Belanger, VP Sales-Process Measurement & Control (far right) Westech Industrial’s Sean Kozicki (second from left) & Jason Lapp (third from left) with top honors at the Honeywell Channel Partner Conference
Andy D’Amelio, VP Sales-Americas (far left), Jerry Belanger, VP Sales-Process Measurement & Control (far right) Westech Industrial’s Sean Kozicki (second from left) & Jason Lapp (third from left) with top honors at the Honeywell Channel Partner Conference

Canada-based Westech Industrial received top honors at Honeywell Process Solutions’ (HPS) annual Channel Partner of the Year awards ceremony. Westech Industrial – which has supplied instrumentation and process control equipment to customers in the oil and gas, terminal, petrochemical and other markets for 50 years – was recognized during Honeywell’s Channel Partner Conference held in San Antonio, Texas.

The awards recognize distributors and system integrators for customer service, innovation and excellence among companies supplying and integrating Honeywell solutions in the Americas.

Read More

Join our mailing list

Latest headlines
delivered to you weekly

Oil & Gas Product News
Tags
Exploration, Drilling & Production

Schlumberger Introduces Depth Domain Inversion Services

Schlumberger recently announced the launch of the Depth Domain Inversion Services. Schlumberger petrotechnical experts use the services to improve the reliability and consistency of seismic structural and quantitative interpretation in complex environments.

“Conventional seismic inversion in the time domain introduces inconsistency between the seismic images and the rock properties, especially where there’s a significant overburden, such as subsalt,” said Maurice Nessim, president, Schlumberger PetroTechnical Services. “With Depth Domain Inversion Services, customers receive more information derived from seismic data for reservoir characterization. This helps reduce uncertainty in complex reservoir environments, improve the confidence in prospect delineation, reservoir properties and volumetric calculations.”

Read More

Tags
Pipelines

QuickPurge, High Speed Pipe Purging System

Waiting for pipe joints to be purged ready for welding can take anything up to four hours, depending on the diameter of the pipe being welding and the method chosen for purging. QuickPurge III cuts these waiting times so dramatically that they amortise themselves in less than one weld.

A 36” diameter stainless steel pipe for example can be purged down to 100 parts per million (ppm) of oxygen in under 32 minutes. Compare this with purging using foam dams that will outgas heavily into the weld zone and will take hours, not a few minutes.

Read More

Tags
Industry News

Fluor Selected by BASF as Global Engineering Partner

Fluor Corporation has announced that German-based BASF SE has selected the company as its global engineering partner for future chemical and petrochemical plant projects around the world.

The services agreement—which was signed at BASF’s chemicals complex and headquarters in Ludwigshafen, Germany, by Peter Oosterveer, Fluor’s chief operating officer, Martin Buschbacher, BASF senior vice president of Global Indirect Procurement, Wolfgang Haas, BASF president of Legal, Taxes and Insurance, and Volker Knabe, BASF president of Engineering and Maintenance—includes conceptual and front-end engineering, detailed engineering, procurement, project management, construction management and other services.

Read More

Tags
Industry News

Pipeline Safety Act has Received Royal Assent

Canada's Minister of Natural Resources, has announced that the Pipeline Safety Act (Bill C-46) has received Royal Assent. The Pipeline Safety Act builds on Canada's already impressive record of safely transporting energy. The National Energy Board (NEB) currently regulates 73,000 kilometres of pipelines, which transport energy across Canada with a safety record of 99.999 percent. This legislation improves Canada's safety system even further by:

  • Introducing absolute liability for all NEB-regulated pipelines, meaning that companies will be liable for costs and damages irrespective of fault — $1 billion for companies operating major oil pipelines — the only absolute liability that exists among our peer jurisdictions (U.S., the UK and Australia). Companies continue to have unlimited liability when at fault or negligent.
  • Providing the NEB authority to order reimbursement of any clean-up costs incurred by governments, communities or individuals;
  • Providing the NEB authority and resources to take control of incident response if a company is unable or unwilling to do so (i.e., in exceptional circumstances); and
  • Requiring companies operating pipelines to hold a minimum level of financial resources, set at $1 billion for companies operating major oil pipelines.

The $1-billion minimum financial capacity and absolute liability limit are unique to Canada. Countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom do not currently require pipeline operators to demonstrate a minimum financial capacity to respond to any incident and to remedy damage caused by pipeline spills, though they have similar "polluter pays" legislation in place. The Pipeline Safety Act represents the latest milestone in our government's plan for Responsible Resource Development. Previous actions introduced by the Harper Government also include:

  • Increasing annual inspections of oil and gas pipelines by 50 percent and doubling the number of comprehensive audits to improve pipeline safety across Canada. There is now an inspector for every 1,217 miles of federally regulated oil and gas pipeline in Canada, compared with every 5,830 miles in the United States.
  • Introducing new financial penalties on pipeline companies for small infractions to prevent larger incidents from occurring; and
  • Giving the NEB the ability to provide guidance on the use of the best available technologies used in federally regulated pipeline projects. This includes materials, construction methods and emergency response techniques.

Read More

Tags
Pipes, Pumps & Valves

New Emerson metal-seated ball valves provide increased protection of critical assets

Fisher Z500 metal-seated ball valves provide tight shutoff for improved process efficiency and uptime​.
Fisher Z500 metal-seated ball valves provide tight shutoff for improved process efficiency and uptime​.

Emerson Process Management has introduced the Fisher Z500 line of metal-seated ball valves to its severe service portfolio.

Fisher Z500 metal-seated valves are engineered to withstand higher temperatures, pressures, and more erosive conditions than a standard on/off ball valve, providing increased reliability and protection of critical assets in demanding applications. A bi-directional sealing design offers a unique solution to process back pressure and shutoff requirements in both flow directions, safeguarding control valves and other equipment in the line.

Read More

Tags
Industry News

Ohio Equipment Company Tells Congress: Lift the Crude Oil Export Ban

As many as 440,000 new jobs will be created by suppliers to shale oil and gas operations nationally by 2018 if the ban on US exports of crude oil were lifted this year, according to testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Committee Wednesday.

Dale Leppo, Chairman of Leppo Inc., an Ohio-based construction equipment dealer and rental company, testified on the export ban’s negative impacts on his company, on the entire energy supply chain. He also cited jobs and growth that would occur if it were lifted.

Read More