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Anyone heard about this alternative to hydro-fracking- Gel Fracking?

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"...Quickly: An alternative to using water in fracking for natural gas, potentially eliminating the water use and wastewater disposal concerns, detailed over at Inside Climate News. One major downside to date is that it costs more than using water in hydraulic fracturing, so few companies have been willing to use propane gel to crack the rock and get at natural gas..."

http://www.treehugger.com/fossil-fuel ... ng-satisfy-opponents.html

Yes, gasp, it costs more money.

The upside:

"New Waterless Fracking Method Avoids Pollution Problems, But Drillers Slow to Embrace It
Little-noticed drilling technique uses propane gel, not water, to release natural gas. Higher cost, lack of data and industry habit stand in the way.

By Anthony Brino, InsideClimate News, and Brian Nearing, Albany Times-Union
Nov 6, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y.—In the debate over hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, two facts are beyond dispute: Huge amounts of water are used to break up gas-bearing rock deep underground and huge amounts of polluted water are returned to the surface after the process is complete.

Tainted with chemicals, salts and even mild radioactivity, such water, when mishandled, has damaged the environment and threatened drinking water, helping fuel a heated debate in New York and other states over whether gas drilling is worth its risk to clean drinking water, rivers and streams.

Now, an emerging technology developed in Canada and just making its way to the U.S. does away with the need for water. Instead, it relies on a thick gel made from propane, a widely-available gas used by anyone who has fired up a backyard barbecue grill.

Called liquefied propane gas (LPG) fracturing, or simply "gas fracking," the waterless method was developed by a small energy company, GasFrac, based in Calgary, Alberta.

Still awaiting a patent in the U.S., the technique has been used about 1,000 times since 2008, mainly in gas wells in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and New Brunswick and a smaller handful of test wells in states that include Texas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico, said GasFrac Chief Technology Officer Robert Lestz.

Like water, propane gel is pumped into deep shale formations a mile or more underground, creating immense pressure that cracks rocks to free trapped natural gas bubbles. Like water, the gel also carries small particles of sand or man-made material—known as proppant—that are forced into cracks to hold them open so the gas can flow out.

Unlike water, the gel does a kind of disappearing act underground. It reverts to vapor due to pressure and heat, then returns to the surface—along with the natural gas—for collection, possible reuse and ultimate resale..."

"...the propane method uses only about one quarter of the number of truck trips that water-based fracking employs, so the impact on local roads, the noise and dust annoyance to neighbors, and the trucking costs for drillers are reduced, he said..."

"...New York's DEC Weighs In

New York's Department of Environmental Conservation devoted a few paragraphs to propane fracking in its 1,500-page Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement report on natural gas drilling in September. It tersely declared that the technology was "not mature enough" to support drilling in New York.

As well as costing more than water, the LPG technology is proprietary to GasFrac, and so has limited availability, the DEC said.

But the agency also seemed to recognize the technology's potential, adding: "While it is not known if or when LPG hydraulic fracturing will be proposed in New York, having ... infrastructure in place may be an important factor in realizing the advantages of this technology."

New York would appear to have a ready source of propane for fracking, as a major propane pipeline runs from Pennsylvania through the heart of the Marcellus Shale area in the Southern Tier. The Teppco pipeline goes through Watkins Glen, Oneonta and Selkirk before continuing into New England.

"This technology will be 'mature' in our view when we have a proposal or an application to review," DEC spokeswoman DEC spokeswoman Charsleissa King said. "At this point we do not have anything before us. We have met with GasFrac to get a general understanding of the technology."

Lestz admits his company does not have nearly enough equipment to take its method mainstream. He said it envisions forming "strategic alliances" with larger, unidentified drilling companies to make its process more available..."

http://insideclimatenews.org/news/201 ... -marcellus-shale-new-york

Take-way the added costs are mostly at the front end- it costs more money to implement the extraction process.

Costs that won't be necessary: everything associated with decontaminating and disposing hydro-fracking wastewater.

Resistance to implementing the technology: overwhelmingly about patent royalties- right now, it's proprietary with only one company, Gas-Frac; the expense of investing in the new technology while discarding previous material investment in the inherently dirty hydro-fracking paradigm; the time delay involved in training enough workers to handle the new technology on a wide-scale basis.

Conclusion: despite the obvious advantages in the long run in terms of both environmental safety and resource recovery, the gas companies will implement this only if they're forced to do it, and even then, only grudgingly, in as few sites as possible.

At minimum, I think gel-fracking should be a pre-requirement for the most fragile geologies and the most sensitive ecological areas, and those places should be drilled last. The gas companies have access to a massive resource that isn't going anywhere, and gas extraction shouldn't be presented to the public as a boom-driven tempo task, with everyone in a hurry to drill and extract the maximum amount of gas in the shortest possible time frame.

And the last thing that we need is to have caution thrown to the wind- and reasonable alternatives discarded- by slavish allegiance to an exclusively price-driven greedhead boom/bust extraction model.

Posted on: 2011/12/19 23:35


Re: Anyone heard about this alternative to hydro-fracking- Gel Fracking?
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Barbless,
Good post - thanks for the heads-up on this.

Posted on: 2011/12/20 13:08


Re: Anyone heard about this alternative to hydro-fracking- Gel Fracking?

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sounds promising so far.

Posted on: 2011/12/20 13:36


Re: Anyone heard about this alternative to hydro-fracking- Gel Fracking?

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2011/12/20 15:15
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lets get to it! you can even reuse the stuff. and, best of all, i can still fish the delaware!

Posted on: 2012/1/10 16:27


Re: Anyone heard about this alternative to hydro-fracking- Gel Fracking?

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From Pretty much everywhere at some point, Thorndale today.
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Sounds promising. My biggest intitial question is how they make the propane into gel? I don't think propane has a natural "gel" form, does it? I'd assume that means you have to add something or other to it to do that. And whatever that something is, is it better or worse than the leftover fluids from regular fracking?

I also don't think it touches the biggest water problem I've seen, which is methane contamination of groundwater in association with poorly sealed or broken well casings.

Posted on: 2012/1/10 17:19


Re: Anyone heard about this alternative to hydro-fracking- Gel Fracking?

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That's a good point. I think dewatering of the streams by pump trucks is also a major problem, particularly in the summertime.

I've also read that the advantage that fracked natural gas supposedly has over coal as far as greenhouse gas emissions is mostly nullified by the associated release of methane as a byproduct from the drilling. Methane is around 20 times the greenhouse gas that CO2 is.

http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/A ... 1/GasDrillingDirtier.html

This is being disputed by the industry.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/art ... ly-adds-greenhouse-effect

It would be so much simpler if they were right. Just as it would be a relief if anthropogenic global warming were found to have no basis. But we can't afford to be bliss ninnies about this. The stakes are too high.

Posted on: 2012/1/10 21:20


Re: Anyone heard about this alternative to hydro-fracking- Gel Fracking?

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I think this is an idea that needs investigating. But keep in mind the volume that is needed. How many more truck loads need to visit a well site and from how far away? My guess is that this will increase truck traffic considerably because the water is available closer to the well than this "jell" is. I also wonder how flammable it is and what the increased risks are in that regard? Each option has trade-offs, no free lunch. On balance it may end up being a better solution, or it may not.

Posted on: 2012/1/11 7:38


Re: Anyone heard about this alternative to hydro-fracking- Gel Fracking?

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Regarding the greenhouse gas thing, global warming is only a small part of the environmental factors favoring gas over coal. While both have their problems, coal mining is on a different scale of environmental damage per unit of energy. I'm mostly talking about the effects of drilling vs. strip or deep mining, not so much on greenhouse gas emmissions. If you don't like that well a half mile from your house, I'm guessing you'd really not like a strip mine! Plus, greenhouse gases aren't the only emmissions of concern for either technique.

But everything is bad, and we need power. The question isn't which power gen method is safe and good for the environment, it's which one is least bad?

IMO, my order of preference:

1. Nuclear
2. Geo (but limited only to certain geographic areas)
3. Hydro (but we've pretty much used up the low hanging fruit, increasing it results in more environmental damage for less power)
4. Solar/Wind and other renewables (but limited by geographic area, land use concerns, AND intermittency complications on the grid)
5. Natural Gas
6. "Clean" coal
7. Oil
8. Traditional coal.

Frankly, you need all of the above, and a diversified grid is preferable. But your focus should start from the top down.

Posted on: 2012/1/11 10:02


Re: Anyone heard about this alternative to hydro-fracking- Gel Fracking?

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The article I posted mentioned that the gel fracking method uses only about 1/4 the number of truck trips, as compared with hydro-fracking.

I'm not sure of the details of what the gel is composed of.

According to what I've read, there is an issue of increased flammability and accidents using propane gel. I get the idea that gel fracking is a different enough technique that it requires some additional training and safety precaution. All that stuff isn't to be learned overnight, of course.

That sounds like the principal practical limitation to implementing gel fracking immediately as a replacement for hydro-fracking. I's say it will take a few years to train enough personnel to do it safely on a widespread basis. Nobody wants to risk a drilling accident from doing it improperly, especially one that leads to severe injuries or deaths. Which is as it should be.

The other barriers to using it seem more like proprietary and patent issues, and the need for increased investment for new equipment and training. There's only one company doing it now, mostly in Canada. I hope that doesn't lead to protracted delays and hangups in implementing the new technology.

I think that the best realistic outcome at this point would be to reserve the more geologically and ecologically sensitive tracts of Pa. land from drilling for a few years, while the production technology matures. The industry can concentrate on the places where there's the most water availability and lesser consequences to watersheds from a mishap.

I'm still sort of blown away that the Pa. state government doesn't have a dividend or royalties arrangement with the gas companies for the extraction of this valuable resource. If I were in the Pa. state government, I'd be doing every procedural maneuver I could to get a better bargain.

At the very least, I would not allow the gas companies to socialize the costs of extraction- and that entails more than simply fining them for accidents and mishaps related to pollution from bad casings and water disposal. Erosion on roads and drilling sites, noise, de-watering streams...the industry needs to be responsible for ameliorating that.



Posted on: 2012/1/11 10:14


Re: Anyone heard about this alternative to hydro-fracking- Gel Fracking?

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Quote:
Erosion on roads and drilling sites, noise, de-watering streams.


I'm all for an impact fee to cover all of that. The problem is a lot of those costs aren't incurred by the state. While some of the roads are state roads, most are smaller, local roads affecting townships and municipalities. Noise is an issue for the local residents. I'm not sure how taking money from the gas company and using it halfway across the state makes them feel any better about it. De-watering and pollution? Ok, there's some cost on the state there, and they should be reimbursed for it, but again, much of the cost falls on the locals.

The goal is to fully reimburse the same entities that are suffering the burden. That's difficult to do, but you do the best you can. Most often, that's keeping the money, either from the impact fee or from fines, local instead of on a state level.

And yeah, the fines are WAY too small. My guess is that any impact fee they come up with will also be too small to start. That's why you have to keep the accounting so that it's the entities with the extra costs who get the money. If you use that money for some unrelated project, you lose that direct cause-cost relationship, and thus have no evidence to merit an increase in the fee at a later date.

Posted on: 2012/1/11 11:01


Re: Anyone heard about this alternative to hydro-fracking- Gel Fracking?

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In the end if this approach is cost effective it will get widely used.

Posted on: 2012/1/11 12:28


Re: Anyone heard about this alternative to hydro-fracking- Gel Fracking?

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There is a safety issue for the employees and well site workers that needs to be factored in.

Posted on: 2012/1/12 6:47






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