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Monday, August 27, 2012

Waterless, chemical-free fracking?


Water is at the root of concerns around fracking – how much of it is used by drillers and where it comes from…the problems and costs associated with hauling or piping it to drill sites…the potential for groundwater pollution from toxic chemicals that are added to it to frack a well…the risks of spills and leaks...the high costs of treatment and disposal…the potential for disposal to cause earthquakes. It’s a long, exhausting list – and for the industry, expensive - list.

What if it water and chemicals were no longer needed for fracking? Would the industry embrace it?  And if so, would public fears about fracking evaporate as well? 

Platts reports today that a New York-based company called Expansion Energy says it has invented a type of fracking that will allow shale drillers to frack oil and gas wells without using a single drop of water, no toxic chemicals, and no other types of fracking liquids that are sometimes used in other developing waterless fracking technologies, such as liquid propane or liquid nitrogen, or dry or “exothermic” fracturing.

The process is called Vandor's Refrigerated Gas Extraction, or VRGE.  It uses ordinary gas from the shale formation itself that is
cryogenically processed – chilled to an extreme degree - as the fracturing and proppant-delivery system.  Cold compressed natural gas produced at the well site is first sent down the well bore to "thermally shock" the formation through exposure to extreme cold, creating initial fissures.  The cold gas is then returned to the surface for reprocessing, then pumped back into the formation at high pressure to create more fissures in the underground formation and to deliver proppant (e.g., sand) to hold open the fissures. 


Expansion Energy says that its process allows the fracking of  oil and gas wells using no liquids or toxic chemicals whatsoever, saving drillers time and money, avoiding the costs of hauling fresh- and wastewater and chemicals , avoiding risks of pollution, and enabling drillers to shrink the footprint of the fracking operation “by a dramatic percentage."

This post is not intended as an endorsement of anything but the entrepreneurial spirit and of the pursuit of win-wins for the environment and economy.  As with any new technology, VRGE  must be proven and accepted by the industry.  Its impacts must be understood. Regulations governing its use must be developed. All of that will take time.  But the problems that VRGE is meant to solve are urgent and real.  Real solutions to them could be a boon for the world.


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