The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Enter Innovation: Improving the Fracking Process

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted June 22, 2012

One of the factors involved in pulling energy from shale through hydraulic fracturing is how much water is needed – typically 2 to 4 million gallons per well. Though that’s not as much water as it sounds (electrical generation for the Susquehanna River Basin requires nearly 150 million gallons per day), it’s a public concern. More on water usage at the FracFocus website.

Water also is an industry concern. It isn’t free, and once the well has been stimulated with fracking, there’s waste water that has to be disposed of or recycled. Enter innovation. A number of companies are tackling the issue.

Schlumberger’s HiWAY flow-channel technology claims to use less water, with greater effectiveness:

“HiWAY technology fundamentally changes the way proppant fractures generate conductivity. The first technique of its kind, HiWAY fracturing creates open pathways inside the fracture, enabling hydrocarbons to flow through the stable channels rather than the proppant. This optimizes connectivity between the reservoir and the wellbore—resulting in infinite fracture conductivity.”

Other companies are marketing waterless alternatives, using other agents to apply pressure to the shale – producing microscopic fractures and introducing sand or other proppants to keep the cracks open so the oil or natural gas can drain from the shale and be collected.

Baker-Hughes has developed VaporFrac, combining a high-pressure nitrogen and/or carbon dioxide gas stream and an ultra-lightweight proppant slurry:

“This method safely creates a flow stream that is more than 90% gas, significantly reducing post-frac cleanup. The high energy of the gas phase makes for easy flowback. There’s a quicker tie into pipelines.”

GASFRAC Energy Services’ liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) gel is primarily propane, which the company says has a number of advantages in fracking:

“Since our gel regains permeability with the hydrocarbons we stimulate, we have 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 post-job truck traffic, while creating higher initial production levels.”

No doubt, other companies, other energy innovators, are at work on this question. The point here is to show the kind of invention that’s being sparked by necessity surrounding water and fracking. Businesses are taking on this issue and others associated with energy development with the goal of making processes better, safer, more efficient and more environmentally friendly. When we hear about their stories, we’ll pass them along.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.