Waterless fracking technologies employ carbon dioxide, nitrogen, or propane. They’re typically viewed as too risky (propane can explode) or too expensive - carrying a cost premium of as much as twenty five percent, according to one estimate – to deploy outside of well fields that have certain specific geologic conditions. There are other challenges inherent in deploying these technologies widely.
General Electric Company, the ecomagination folks, are saying that CO2 isn’t likely to replace water in fracking any time soon. They cite the technical challenges facing CO2 fracturing, and note that another big hurdle to overcome is a lack of infrastructure to transport CO2 to well fields from power plants and industrial sources that could be equipped with carbon capture technology.
The latter problem could be addressed with the carbon network approach whose development I led while in state service in Pennsylvania. Such networks are beginning to take shape in other countries. Until they begin to grow here, and until CO2 and other waterless technologies become the standard, stress on water supplies from fracking in dry American states will continue. And shale gas development in western China and other water-stressed regions will be at least delayed.
Is CO2 fracking really a long way off? Or will oil and gas companies accelerate the development of another technology – besides CCS - that serves their interests?