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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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A New Way To Fracture Oil and Gas Wells

A New Way To Fracture Oil and Gas Wells

GASFRAC of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, has developed an innovative closed stimulation process and injection method, utilizing gelled LPG rather than water based conventional formation fracturing fluids.

The firm has developed a Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) or propane based gel that is as natural to a well as soil is to the earth. It’s dissolves into the formation hydrocarbons improving performance without using water.

LPG will burn of course so GASFRAC has developed a zero-oxygen, closed system and specialized equipment that protects worker safety, eliminates post-job cleanup and requires only minimal flaring that can be reduced to zero when installing the appropriate recapture facilities.

Without forcing water into the oil or gas laden rock opens the ability to quickly recover 100% of the fracturing fluid resulting in enhanced oil and gas recovery and longer sustained production.  The LPG could be recaptured, reused or resold, a highly cost-effective benefit, especially for multi-stage horizontal wells.

GASFRAC is using your standard C3H8, a naturally occurring hydrocarbon that doesn’t damage the rock formation. In the gel form the material has low surface tension, low viscosity, low density, along with solubility within naturally occurring reservoir hydrocarbons – all of which when added together, create more effective fracture lengths, enabling higher initial and long term production of the well.

GASFRAC LPG Fracking Fluid
GASFRAC’s LPG Frack Results Graphic.

These properties have what GASFRAC claims are major advantages.  The sand or proppant can be evenly distributed during pumping, thereby decreasing the chance of the proppant settling in odd inconvenient spots in the formations.  The gel can generate a higher pay zone height throughout pumping and subsequent long-term production.

The waterless method increases initial production rates, helping establish production much sooner than traditional fracturing methods.

Sounds like an advertisement. Nearly so . . .

Except that the gel regains permeability with the stimulated hydrocarbons, with the ability to recover 100% of the fracturing fluids within days of stimulation. This creates economic and environmental benefits reducing clean-up, waste disposal and pre and post-job truck traffic, while creating higher initial production levels. It is a true win for producers and a win for the environment.

The technology isn’t yet fully proven.  Still the firm has fracked over 1,300 wells in Canada and the US. The method was originally designed to improve the performance of low-pressure wells and has impressed those within the environmental arena.

The Vancouver Sun reports GASFRAC charges a 50 percent premium in comparison to traditional fracking companies.  But there would be significant savings in water use, truck traffic (as much as 75% less), and easier site cleanups. Apart from logistical gains, the article also referred to the rise in well production as “spectacular.” Reports from the Cardium formation, which is west of Edmonton, displayed that the LPG fracking results are “two to three times better” at increasing the flow of oil and gas in comparison to traditional methods.

Another environmental advantage is LPG is electrically neutral and lacks having much friction, so it doesn’t dissolve and bring back to the surface the salts, heavy metals or radioactive compounds that water-based fracking extracts from the rock underground.

The oil and gas business, in its natural ultra competitive way has been pretty hush hush on the technology.

Last year, Chevron, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, used LPG to frack several natural gas wells in the Piceance Basin, home to several lucrative coal, oil and natural gas deposits in northwestern Colorado. The technology “significantly increases production while minimizing water usage,” the company said in its annual report, which did not mention GASFRAC by name.

It looks like there are already some formulas being developed for the gel for use in the specific circumstances.  That is proprietary, and GASFRAC is leaving the ownership of the formulas in the hands of the well operators.

That privacy drives the watchdogs a bit crazy.

The technology is marching on.  San Antonio-based BlackBrush recently announced a two-year contract with GASFRAC in the oil-rich Eagle Ford Shale in Texas. Phil Mezey, BlackBrush’s co-CEO, said in a news release that using LPG 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.”

GASFRAC has also fracked several oil wells in Colorado’s Niobrara Formation. Although GASFRAC hasn’t released the name of its customer, some investors have speculated that it is Fort Worth-based Quicksilver Resources.

The most interesting news is a well that GASFRAC fracked in north central Pennsylvania for Dallas-based Exco Resources. It could give a glimpse of how effective LPG fracking might be in the huge Marcellus shale in the environmentally and politically charged northeast.

The technology developed by former Chevron engineer Robert Lestz, now GASFRAC’s chief technology officer is very likely to take off.  The company recently recieved a $100 million loan that will help ease some of its growing pains, and it has hired Zeke Zeringue, a former president of Halliburton Energy Services Group, to replace its retiring founder and CEO.  Plenty of money, the right people and customers are lining up.

And!  They’re hiring!

For the less thoughtful – a cautionary note.  This is propane, the stuff in the bottle for the grill and used to fuel cars, heat homes and other things.  It obviously burns.  Yet a lot of folks are going to raise a ruckus over it being more dangerous than water.  Keep in mind that the oil and gas business is about flammable liquids and gases and as a practical matter no one else is better able to incorporate a propane technology.  It’s already safe and will get safer.  Ruckessing over propane to frak a well might seem a little daft.

Congratulations to Mr. Lestz.  Working out how to mix up a hydraulic fluid that works better than water and solves the big well fracturing concerns with better productivity is a fine accomplishment – that from here is highly appreciated.

By. Brian Westenhaus

Source: A New Way To Fracture Oil and Gas Wells




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Leave a comment
  • jim on August 01 2012 said:
    It appears safe but in Alberta they have had two fatal accidents.
  • Jon on August 01 2012 said:
    Jim,

    I don't believe these accidents were fatal.
  • Allen on August 02 2012 said:
    GASFRAC has never had a fatality in over 1600 jobs completed. They actually have one of the strongest safety records of any service company in the industry

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