While the both oil and gas industry and environmentalists continue to study the benefits and potential dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, some companies have forged ahead to develop new, more powerful fracking techniques.
Dubbed “super fracking” by Bloomberg.com, energy industry researchers are working on new ways to create deeper and longer fissures in underground rock formations to release even more oil and gas. Industry giants including Schlumberger Ltd., Baker Hughs Inc., and Halliburton Co. are all investigating new, more aggressive fracking methods. Quoted in a Bloomberg article, David Pursell, a former fracking engineer who is currently an analyst at Tudor Pckering Holt & Co. in Houston, said, “I want to crack the rock across as much of the reservoir as I can. That’s the Holy Grail.”
In the same article, Kirk Sherr, president of Regester Larkin Energy North America, an industry consultant, expressed concern that super fracking may heighten worries about existing risks associated with shale development. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying whether fracking can contaminate water supplies. And officials in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Ohio are troubled by recent outbreaks of small earthquakes that have been occurring in locations where the injection of wastewater from fracking wells may be the cause.
Halliburton is calling its RapidFrac™ system “the frack of the future.” The system uses a metering process that allows access to multiple fracture points to enhance production and reduce the volume of water used during the fracking process.
Schlumberger has developed its own advanced fracking technology–HiWay— after six years of research. HiWay injects specially treated material into fractures to widen pathways for the flow of oil and gas, and also reducing water consumption. The number of companies using HyWay has increased from just two a year ago to more than 20 in October 2011, according to the company.
Baker Hughes’ FracPoint is a multi-stage fracturing system that breaks the fracking process down into multiple stages allowing better connectivity to the reservoir of underlying oil and gas deposits. The technology is currently being test by select customers according to the company.
Last August, the Energy Advisory Board Subcommittee on Shale Gas Production, convened by U.S. secretary of energy, Steven Chu, released its initial 90-day report focusing on 20 recommendations to reduce the environmental impact of shale gas production across the U.S. In its second 90-day report released last November, the subcommittee recommended that companies be required to measure and disclose air emissions from shale gas sources among other recommendations.
Dr. Stephen Holdlitch, head of the Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University, and the author of one of the first scientific papers ever published on hydraulic fracturing in tight gas reservoirs, suggests in a recent article in the FuelFix section of the Houston Chronicle, that the shale gas industry work to establish best practices for fracking. Holditch also recommends the formation of a shale gas industry production organization to support those standards.