Making Fracking More Efficient
Thanks to the process of hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — it’s become easier to retrieve oil and gas from shale formations. Companies drill into the earth, and inject a highly pressurized fluid mixture to extract natural resources from the fractured rock.
Fracturing has helped the U.S. reduce its reliance on foreign oil imports, but the environmental costs have been significant. Not only does the process use an immense amount of water, but it also relies on chemical fluids during the procedure.
Professor Hansong Tang (City College of New York) and a team of researchers recognized the need for greater efficiency in the industry. Their co-authored article, published in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, proposes improving three main areas when it comes to the use of chemical additives in fracturing fluids.
For starters, it’s important to understand the fluids themselves, especially their rheology or flow. As the researchers explain, different formations require different fluids, and it can take years —and quite a bit of money — to test which fluid will perform best on which formation.
Secondly, more information is needed to predict how and where fluids migrate, which will help predict where they may eventually end up.
Lastly, the researchers call for a greater understanding of the environmental impact fluids have, whether that’s fluid leaking into aquifers, or the amount of water used during the fracturing process.
With each area, the researchers propose ways to improve fluid testing, modeling capabilities, and build a more robust knowledge base about fracturing fluids. They even suggest using “greener” chemicals, but admit “it is not always clear what exactly ‘green’ or ‘greener’ mean.” However the fracturing industry works to improve efficiency, it will require multiple advancements, namely from the areas of science and engineering to get there.