As many Texas oil and gas lease owners know, fracing creates new channels in rock that can increase extraction rates for the recovery of fossil fuels. However, some claim that the process contaminates groundwater or risks air quality. The traditional process works by pumping fracturing fluid into the well-bore at a sufficient rate to increase down-hole pressure. But a new technology is on the horizon to achieve the same results without using water. This new process is only a few years old and was largely invented by Robert Lestz, the chief technology officer at GasFrac Energy Services Inc.
The Process & Benefits
Waterless fracing works with almost the same process as traditional methods, but it replaces the traditional mixture of water, sand, and chemicals with a thick gel made from propane. The company claims this petroleum gel is as natural to a well as soil is to the earth. This gel is called “liquefied propane gas,” or LPG for short. LPG has the added advantage of reverting to vapor while still underground, and it therefore returns to the surface in a recoverable form. Also, unlike water-based methods, LPG does not carry chemicals used in drilling back to the surface. In that way it requires less post-job cleanup and almost no flaring. Another benefit of this new technology is that it is more efficient, because the fracturing fluid can be recovered and re-used or re-sold, saving the oil and gas producer substantial expenses.
Thus far, LPG has mainly been used in western Canada, where GasFrac is based. Their goal is for the process to spread to new locations quickly. In fact, it has the potential to get around politically-motivated hydraulic fracturing bans, such as the one in place in New York. GasFrac is in talks to use LPG fracing on 135,000 acres in Tioga County, New York. The company is also interested in expanding into Western Europe, in countries such as the UK, Switzerland, and France, which also have a hydraulic fracturing ban in place.
GasFrac is expanding operations to include Texas and will develop a 20 acre operational center near San Antonio to provide waterless fracing to oil and gas companies working in the Eagle Ford Shale. They have a two year contract with BlackBrush Oil and Gas LP to provide the technology to 900 drilling sites.
The economy in the area is already benefiting from this growth, and GasFrac intends to hire at least 100 local workers. Phil Mezey, BlackBrush’s CEO, stated that LPG fracing has already brought “oil production at a sustainable rate weeks earlier than with the standard water frac and we are seeing huge savings on disposal of frac fluids.”
This is also great news for Texas because of the Eagle Ford area’s continued drought problems. Hydraulic fracturing requires significant amounts of water, which can compound the water shortage. With so many pressures on the area’s aquifers, some were speculating that a choice would have to be made between fracing and farming. LPG fracing is a potential solution to this problem by eliminating the need for any local water resources.
This could be a game changing new technology as GasFrac continues to expand in North America and internationally. Even some in the environmental community welcome this as a positive step. One representative from the Environmental Defense Fund admitted that this was a positive sign that the industry can reduce alleged environmental impacts.
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