Waterless Fracking promises more energy, less trouble

Waterless Fracking may increase access to more energy, without the need to deal with the waste water.From the article:

Researchers at the Colorado School of Mines claim they have developed a method to unlock hydrocarbons trapped in shale with using any water at all. They are seeking to perfect Cryogenic fracturing, which replaces water with searing cold liquid nitrogen (or carbon dioxide). Used at temperatures below minus 321 Fahrenheit, it is pumped underground at high pressure. Once it comes into contact with the heated, pressurized shale, a reaction occurs which caused the shale to crack open and creates fissures through which the hydrocarbons can gush out. They liken it to pouring hot water onto a frozen car windshield, with the sharp and sudden temperature change causing the glass to crack.

There are several positive results from using this technique. First, the liquid nitrogen will evaporate underground eliminating the need for costly recovery and retreatment. Further, they claim it will form bigger fissures or canals through which hydrocarbons can be extracted, boosting oil and gas production. In theory, the below-freezing liquid should actually be more rather than less effective than water based methods.

Second, it may well solve problems with water-sensitive formations or those with an unwanted amount of clay. Slickwater fracking often causes water saturation around the fracture and clay swelling, hindering the ability to transport hydrocarbons from the fracture to the well bore. Some shale absorbs water very quickly and the entire formation may swell in size and hinder transport through the fissures we have created. Even in a best case scenario, using hydraulic fracturing results in a low recovery factor, caused largely by water trapping.

h/t to WUWT reader Ben in WUWT Tips and Notes




140 thoughts on “Waterless Fracking promises more energy, less trouble

    • Actually a very good example of synergy…

      Might even make carbon sequestration profitable?

      Now wouldn’t that be a turn up for the books?

      • It’s actually commercially viable, if not yet profitable: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/construction-begins-on-new-carbon-capture-plant/

        and from what I’ve seen there are gel coated membranes that can absorb and store CO2, but I’ve not yet seen how that CO2 can be removed and therefore reused, or if the membrane had to be stored with CO2 sequestered. Cost estimates were $20-$2000 per ton. Obviously in it’s infancy. They were pdf’s on google scholar so didn’t provide that link.

      • We don’t want to “sequester” that CO2. We want it in the atmosphere where it can feed the plants that are our food supply. Why does everyone in this Global Warming (or current catchphrase) debate want to suffocate all plant life on the planet?

      • I looked into this very early into my sceptical journey, there are numerous ways to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere, there just aren’t any economical ways and there probably any that aren’t any that don’t generate more CO2 from power generation than they sequester. Power plant or Concrete kiln capture might get over that hurdle depending on capital cost variables, but I suspect even there, the “feel good” value for the greens is greater than any practical value ever will be.

      • Danny Thomas says:

        It’s actually commercially viable…

        Why would anyone want to reduce CO2? There is not enough of it. That’s like wanting to reduce the food supply in Africa or China.

        CO2 is harmless, and it is beneficial. Instead of reducing it, reducing the tax money wasted on these pointless mitigation schemes would be far better.

        And the ocean is not acidifying. Please use correct terms. The ocean is alkaline; it will never be acid. N.E.V.E.R.

      • DB,

        Sigh. You just seem to dislike me personally.

        First. Statement of fact. It is viable.
        Re: “Why would anyone want to remove CO2. See above fact. If one can make money on it, why not, if it’s not verifiable as being detrimental? Some removal, to a point, is just fine. Too much not so good. Now, see next paragraph.

        CO2 is beneficial until it reaches a level that it’s not. Scientifically provable, verifiable, and repeatable. To be specific, in no way did I say that I expect it to reach that level again, but as climate is changing, has changed and will always change and based on an early atmospheric content on this very planet resembling Venus at a point eons ago, it is possible, not necessarily likely that it COULD happen again.

        Can we not move on?

        The baking soda thing was a joke.


    • How many carbon capture projects are active today worldwide? I vaguely recall 1 or maybe 2. I stand to be corrected.

    • Yes, but how much energy is used to liquify the CO2 or N2? If the energy extracted does not cover this, and then some, it is useless technology.

      • I agree, John. Do authors/journalists ask about cost vs return when they cover a story? I often get frustrated at these omissions.

      • The next brilliant idea will be to pump liquid oxygen down the borehole and incinerate the shale oil in situ, vent the hot combustion products through a secondary borehole with a turbine inserted, and then export the electrical power instead of the oil.

      • They have already tried that. It is called UCG and it is very, very bad news. I have absolutely no problem with fracking (I would happily have a well in my backyard). UCG on the other hand is an abhorrent technology.

      • I found an undated price guide from Airgas showing $4,200 for 5,000 gallons. It’s cheaper than beer when ordered in bulk.

    • Most likely they’ll use nitrogen only. Not only do we have the proper infrastructure for generating it in large quantities in place, it’s also a liquid and much easier to handle. CO2 becomes dry ice at much higher temperatures

    • “[W]hich replaces water with searing cold liquid nitrogen (or carbon dioxide). Used at temperatures below minus 321 Fahrenheit”
      There’s a tectonically error in that statement.
      While liquid nitrogen is approximately minus 321 Fahrenheit at atmospheric pressure, liquid CO2 is only about -100 Fahrenheit, and does not meet the definition of a cryogen.

  1. Hmmm. Nope. Already done. Pure CO2 and liquid propane fracture treatments have been done for decades. No water, but extremely expensive, and extremely dangerous. They are niche methods of fracturing.

    Cryogenic fracturing would also require HUGE amounts of liquid CO2 or N2. Geological Heat transport would warm the liquid well before it gets to the target zone.

    And cryogenic fracturing would pull most tubulars apart. Even with water at ambient temps, expansion joints are needed to compensate for temperature shrinkage.

    In theory, practice and theory are the same. In practice, they aren’t.

    • You are right if the volumes of water used right now are required. There is a tremendous amount of water hauled in and out of these deep, horizontal wells. Tankers and tankers of liquid nitrogen. Very expensive.

      • They wouldn’t need “tankers and tankers of liquid nitrogen.” It could be produce on site or nearby. Extracting nitrogen from the atmosphere and liquifying it is an easy and relatively inexpensive process. If enough of it is going to be used for fracking it makes perfect sense to make it where it’s going to be used rather than trucking it in long distance. All that’s need is the electricity to run the compressors, cryocoolers, and pumps.

      • It’s called “dry” ice because it sublimates directly to the air without melting into a liquid first. 300PSI liquid CO2 is used in specialized machinery to create blocks or pellets.

      • Its a very good solvent as well, dissolves almost everything water will plus many things that are a little too oily for water; I remember that there was talk of using it for a dry cleaning agent.

      • @Paul
        Yes, supercritical fluid extraction. Good for getting essential oils from vegitative matter and what not; for dry cleaning, not so much.

    • The academics just want money to stuff into their bank accounts, pay for the lights and feather their retirements. If they can promote their research. But, of course, it’s just for them since it will never be used without a tyrannical goverment mandate.

      For example, in Canada it seems a company, Gasfrac, holds a patent on using LP. There web site ( http://www.gasfrac.com/ ) has their sales pitch regarding it. If my reading of their financials (see any financial site – ticker GFS on the Toronto market), they started up in 2010, had a small profit in 2010 and have been “bleeding” money every year since in greater amounts year by year.. The hope seems to be the anti-frackers will ban current fracking water based technology and switch to their patented process(es).

      This means the “real world” has found it’s simply not economical to switch to something as readily available as LP to replace even cheaper water.

      As noted in the comment, it’s just silly to consider using cryo-gases since even the LP technology that’s available isn’t used.

      One should note – is there a trace odor of “CO2 sequestering”.

      • There could be the unpleasant smell of unnecessary money being spent, but CO2 is a trace odourless gas that is heavier than air. It is dangerous in the sense that it can sink and collect at low points with limited air circulation (such as in pits and sewers) endangering maintenance personnel who must access these locations periodically.

      • Perhaps. But this isn’t some nutcase environmental proposal. The Colorado School of Mines is one of the premier (probably the premier) educational institutions that works on issues of mining, energy and related areas. I’d be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and hear them out in most cases.

        Of course, there is always the huge gap that exists between early research and actual commercial viability. Then there is the tendency of press releases to go beyond what has actually been demonstrated or to conveniently skip over the devil in the details . . .

    • Indeed, the completion string would disintegrate and such large volumes of liquid N2 would not be easily available. What the “scientists” refer to is thermal fraccing. Have done this with water disposal welsl in high temperature rock, the cold (ambient) water continuously crack the rock, but the cracks will close again when the water flow is stopped. For that reason is proppant pumped during “normal” fracced wells, to keep the cracks open after initiation. But again, agreeing with Les, would not be possible with cryogenic fluids. These fluids have too high viscosity (being too thin) to exert any force against he formation, they will just disappear in the natural permeability of the rock, unless pump rates exceed flow rates of hydrocarbons, but even then, very inefficient .So mixing up two technologies; thermal fraccing and fraccing with low vis fluids (cross linked gel) and not feasibly due to the temp effects on the well and the vast amount of liquids needed.

  2. Fracing not only involves water but also sand, which increases the pore space allowing a place for they hydrocarbons to collect. This new method could hold great promise.

  3. Brilliant idea. But hydraulic fracturing also requires what we Texas old timers call “propus”, a material that props up or keeps the fissures open after the blast charge shatters the strata. It’s a material more or less like sand that is injected into the cracks with the water to stabilize the fissure. I wonder what material the liquid N2 can carry? Maybe the same stuff being used now?

    • Proppants are usually made of ceramic materials and it is a booming business these days. Sand is not as reliable.

      Ceramic balls of high strength materials are predictable and uniform. And they don’t clog pipes as easily.

      • Correction, ceramic makes up ~10% of proppants. High purity rounded quartz sand is the most common. Shales with gas don’t require wide fractures to ensure good flow and 100mesh single grain (from one crystal) quartz can support up to 15,000psi (5,000 metre depth).

    • Others such as in the Shlumberger Oil services company call it “proppant” e.g. sand.
      If the cryo technique shatters the rock it may create its own proppant.

  4. Whether this is a viable alternative will be determined by the big frak outfits like Halliburton. Liquid nitrogen! Remember, the frac interval is as long as a mile, horizontally. The logistics of having enough water on hand are problematic. Imagine needing to provide ten thousand cubic feet of liquid NITROGEN.

    • Well, technically the liquid nitrogen could be manufactured on the spot, if the volume needed is not too great.

      • I did cold box design for more than a few years for Air Liquide; they have smaller onsite LN2 generation plants called APSAs. They’re somewhat modular and typically used by clients that need largish quantities (more than can be provided by onsite membrane gaseous N2 or a couple of 13,000USG storage tanks but less than that produced by a “normal”-sized air separation unit.

  5. I own a truck/trailer hauling frac sand, been at it about 4 years. I am currently in the Eagle Ford in south Texas, but spent over two years in the Bakken in Nirth Dakota/Montana.

    About two years ago we hauled sand to a frac job NW of Stanley, ND that was experimenting with nitrogen. They had quite a few problems with the nitrogen equipment as I remember. Never saw another one while i was up there. Good to see they stuck with it.

    This is a good reminder…..for all the Negative Nellies out there who like pointing out the poor EROEI and fast decline rates on frac wells, these shale plays are really nothing more than huge laboratories. I have talked to dozens of engineers and production personnel, and they’re constantly trying new methods and formulas.

    Science and engineering……without the climate crisis heartburn…….a wonderful thing.

    • Steve you should add “in America” after “Science and engineering” (I’m Australian, by the way). Hopefully, all that wonderful experimentation that is being carried out in the Bakken and in the Eagle Ford Shale, as well as other places, will start spreading to other parts of the world. Of course, your Canadian neighbours are probably going at it already.

      Good stuff, mate!

    • Hmmmmm…..CO2 liquid? Not so much.
      If the pressure is not right, it flashes into solid form.
      Additionally, CO2 is corrosive in the presence of moisture.
      N2 is a very cheap industrial liquid. It doesn’t react to form corrosive compounds as easily as CO2. But you still have the explosive phase change risk that takes place when cryogenics hit relatively hot things like rocks. And they are doing so in an enclosed space. How much expensive downhole equipment will be at risk from this?

  6. I wonder how small you can make a cryogenic unit. You could make your liquid Nitrogen right on the site, no need to ship it in.

    Power it with Natural gas you tap right off the last well you opened up. ^_^

    • You do need electricity for the main air compressor and cooling pumps for these small cryo units, see my post upstream.

      • That was what I meant about using the Natural gas from the well, or other wells. Use it to power a generator. Closed system. Create your own liquid nitrogen on site, use on site gas to power the gas liquification.

  7. From a fracturing price book:

    CO2 is 1.40 per scm
    N2 is 2.24 per scm

    scm is one standard cubic meter. One meter of gas at one atmosphere at 16 deg C

    It takes about 1000 scm of gas to make one m3 of liquid.

    The cost of water is pennies per m3.

    So liquid gas is at least 3 orders of magnitude more expensive than water. Specialized pumping equipment increases that cost yet again.

    In hot weather, you also have 25% losses per day, of cryo fluids. Some of the fluid needs to evaporate off, in order to cool the remaining fluid.

    So, you can pay 1000 of times the cost of water, to get about the same results as water.

    How will that play out in a free market?

    • If using the N2 method, increases production by 50% over water, as an example, then the higher cost would be worth it. The same thing was said about the shale plays a few years back. Way to expensive to frack it out and extract oil, then lateral drilling was improved making the expensive fracking worthwhile.

    • I don’t recall anything about 25% per day losses due to boil-off. Where does that figure come from? I also don’t know what is meant about “fluid evaporating and cooling the remaining fluid” – that actually makes no sense. What DOES happen often is that liquid is drawn off the storage tank and sent to a ambient (sometimes water-bath or other) vaporizer. This pressurizes the tank to push the liquid out and through the piping.

      • The BP of liquid nitrogen is 77K, in order for the liquid to stay liquid in an environment that is hotter than the BP, some heat must be removed by vaporization.

    • Well, first, it’s obvious you don’t live in the northern Midwest. Water is EXPENSIVE in Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, and parts of Nebraska. Secondly, I doubt the fracking crews will be buying liquid nitrogen. It’s far easier to compress it on site, as needed. That not only eliminates the cost of shipping, it also eliminates most of the cost of storing the stuff. Thirdly, the entire expense of recycling/cleaning fracking fluid will be eliminated, cutting expenses far more than manufacturing liquid nitrogen would raise it.

  8. This sounds very very dangerous, the liquids are deadly when cold and deadly when they explode, and also a risk of asphyxiation.
    But I know very little about this technology, I could be completely wrong, just my gut feeling.

    • Nitrogen is inert and it doesn’t explode. It CAN displace air, of course. The extreme low temperature is a risk and piping and equipment is insulated.

      • Oh, I thought N2 at minus 300 something making contact with several hundred degrees warmer surroundings would expand the gas. Maybe Im wrong.
        There are lots of youtube videos of exploding nitrogen.

      • For Bjorn from Sweden: I guess this depends on how ‘explosion’ is defined. Normally I associate the word with high heat and very high pressure travelling fast. Rapidly expanding nitrogen could asphyxiate bystanders and make them cold.

      • “Nitrogen is inert.” Umm, no. I don’t think that’s what you meant to say. However it is not explosive, as you have stated.

        Argon is inert. I don’t know what it would take to liquify argon since I do not know it’s boiling point off hand. However it does make up a wee bit under 1% of the atmospheric gases (not counting water vapor), which means it is present in air at a higher concentration than CO2. Would it be useful for fracking? No idea.

  9. The volume and pressures are impressive with a typical well fracking…. Connecting up to 16 tractor trailer sized pumps and piping to a well head that delivers 300 gpm @ 20,000 to 30,000 psi and up to a million gallons of water is flat out impressive.

    Does the compressibility of liquid N2, match water?

    A million gallons of liquid N2 would be need to be made and stored in some huge cryo tanks . not to mention the boil-off would be going on all over the site and down the well.
    Crude oil prices are down to 78 bucks at the moment…. (won’t stay there for long)

    • It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that vacuum jacket-insulated piping is used as much as possible near and down the well. The largest practical cryogenic tanks are 13,000USG. They have dual wall insulation, if I remember correctly (I may be thinking of liquid hydrogen though).

      • All cryogenic tanks are double wall with a vacuum drawn in space and as small amount of standoffs to support the inner tank as possible .

    • Please don’t tell anybody how much pure CO2 we have in the USA
      Amazing. and the EPA is trying to regulate CO2 from power plants, ignoring a much, much larger source.

      Nero passing regulations on the size of candles used in the palace, to prevent Rome from burning.

  10. Right. So where is the first producing cryogenic well? The proof-of-principle?
    As for crude prices, never underestimate the price volatility of an inelastic commodity. But that inherent volatility says almost nothing about long term S/D trends, and so pricing.

  11. But what about when we reach peak nitrogen?

    Film plot spoiler coming up so avert gaze please…………………


    I’ve just seen “Interstellar” and we’ll all suffocate into little bits until we all die a death…

  12. I assume the mining scientists are well aware of the issues brought up here and have overcome them.

  13. This is only one of the many research efforts being conducted at CSM. Scaling up from the laboratory to the real world is always the big hurdle.

  14. I’m in the biz. Nitrogen fracking is expensive. CO2 fracking introduces a corrosive issue with standard iron pipes.

    Another eco-green plan that increases energy costs and stimulates by comparison the Islamic middle East.

    Gotta love Al Gore. He knows the value in keeping the Islamist states profitable.

    • Doug, I think it´s a frac cost and a water disposal reduction technique. The idea sounds a bit goofy, they don´t mention how they will be propping the thermal fractures, which I suspect will tend to close once the rocks warm up again. Since they are trying exotic techniques maybe they´ll want to try using cryogenic methane, I think it has a higher heat capacity and they´ll be able to sell it when they flow back.

      When I think about it the whole idea seems crazy, but maybe it´ll work in places with hostile natives, like in the UK.

    • Al Gore took a bunch of them for a ride when he sold Al Jazeera his video channel. It regularly boasts about 10,000 viewers on a really good day. They are suing to get some of their money back. He knows the value in keeping himself profitable.

  15. The first comments above regarding CO2 seemed a bit off. Liquid Nitrogen would require a tremendous amount of energy to produce. This does not sound economically feasible because of the cost to produce a vast amount of N2 in liquid form.

    • Oxygen for breathing and industrial uses is very often produced via cryogenic distillation (liquid air is produced and then separated). Since the raw product, air, is 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen, over 3/4 of the feed stream is vented back as a gas in huge volumes to the atmosphere (we called it waste N2 and actually some of it is used to regenerate the front end adsorbers. The adsorbers are where CO2 – yes, that nasty molecule and water are removed).

      • Totally off topic, but maybe you can tell me something I’ve long wondered about. How “scarce” are the various inert gases? Is there plenty of oxygen production to get all the xenon we need from a plant here and there, or is an effort made to collect every molecule of it from all of the liquid air plants, or is oxygen actually a byproduct of of inert gas production? Argon? Neon? Krypton?

      • Bell Phillips,

        The only scarce/depleting noble gas is helium. It is extracted from oil wells as a byproduct, and once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. It is too light to be held by earth’s gravity.

        The others are extracted from air. Some are more scarece than others; argon, for example, is ≈1% of the atmosphere, so it is very plentiful. Radon is unstable and radioactive, but it is found only in limited areas, and it is considered a nuisance.

        Oxygen and other atmospheric gases are all collected together, by companies that specialize in their production. They use fractional distillation, and cooling the air provides many different elements and compounds. As the temperature of the liquid is allowed to rise it causes each element/compound to boil, and they are collected for sale.

      • dbstealy,

        Thanks for the reply, but that’s not really what I’m asking. Let me try to clarify. There is a certain amount of oxygen distilled from air, and the demand for it dictates the total capacity of all the air plants operated.

        There is also a certain demand for, say, neon. My question is, how difficult is it to meet the neon demand. If the neon demand is low, most liquid air plants wouldn’t even bother with it. If the neon demand is high, nearly every plant would incur the extra expense required to separate it from their oxygen stream. In the extreme case, oxygen would be vented back to the atmosphere in order to recover enough neon.

  16. Cool! Cool is good. Hang on a minute…warm bad, cool good. I fail to see the problem here.

    Layman of this Planet.

    (WUWT..superb website)

    • No, cool bad. Cool means end of alarmism, end of funding, end of jobs, end of everything.
      Repeat after me:
      Two legs good
      Four legs bad.

  17. They need to have a new name like Cracking to sell it to the public. And make sure it is not to be confused with the refinery distillation method for petroleum fractionation.

  18. “Once it comes into contact with the heated, pressurized shale, a reaction occurs”

    It’s important to be clear on these things for the uninitiated, Mr. Watts. A reaction does not occur. A phase change occurs (the liquid simply turns into a gas). The word ‘reaction’ might scare a climate alarmist.

  19. Error in the first sentence from the article, which includes “trapped in shale with using any water at all”

    It should be changed to: “trapped in shale withOUT using any water at all” (unless the article itself was in error, in which case an “sic” should be added to indicate that).

  20. Many things can be used to replace water for frac’ing. The economics are always the question. It would need to be used many times to optimize the frac even before it can be evaluated.

    Also, no two frac’s are ever the same. What works in one area might not work 10 miles away.

  21. Geez, I’m impressed. Trucker hauling frac sand, employee of Air Liquide, others with close knowledge.

    Good crowd of readers (and posters) here!

  22. Gas fracking was used in the San Juan Basin coal degas wells 20+ years ago. The process was to pump nitrogen into the coal bed under high pressure and then abruptly release it, creating a geyser of water, nitrogen, and smashed up bits of coal. The result was a large cavity in the coal bed, surrounded by a network of both natural and manmade fractures, which formed an ideal place for methane to migrate into.

  23. Something about using CO2 to extract fuel that makes more CO2 is fantastic. Almost perpetual in a sense. Finally driving alarmists over the edge. What can I do to help?

  24. Probably no coincidence this is out of Colorado where Shell have been working with cryogenic techniques to extract Green River oil shale.

    They are not fracking to my knowledge, but using cryo to create barriers to water contamination. I presume they have also solved many of the problems in getting liquid nitrogen underground.

    • As a CSM alum, and a petroleum engineer, I am intrigued by the technique. Cryogenic gases have been around the oil patch for decades; we have been pumping them as liquids but warming them up through a heat exchanger so that what goes into the wellbore is a gas. the mechanics of injecting the cryogenic gas are going to be pretty complicated: The folks at CSM should be congratulated if they’ve successfully addressed that bit of engineering.

      I suspect, though, that the press has really missed the point on the technique. Water use by hydraulic fracturing is not the issue that the greens are trying to paint. There are many articles at ‘Energy in Depth’ which address that myth. I would postulate that the real purpose behind the technique is to try and extend the ability to fracture unconventional source rocks into shales that may be too ‘plastic’ (as opposed to brittle) for the (now) conventional stimulation techniques.

      • Jeff, work out the casing stress caused by dropping the well temperature 150 degrees. Conversely, work out the cost for vacuum insolated work string needed to keep the well temperature from dropping 150 degrees C.

      • Fernando, i agree that you don’t want to expose much (or any) casing to the cold temperatures. The work string, as you say, will be quite expensive. Not only must it be insulated, plus a grade of material that can withstand the temperatures, there also need to be a seal bore/ slick joint assembly to allow for length changes due to thermal effects, countered by pressure effects. Packer design must either be such that the seals are thermally insulated from tubing fluids, or it must have some pretty exotic elastomer for those seal elements. My guess is these issues are among the things addressed by the engineers from CSM.

        Now, do I expect to see this in practice any time soon? No. It may never prove to be economically attractive, or it may become a successful niche tool in development for certain types of unconventional lithologies. I think it’s a notable development, worth following for those in my industry who work with ‘unconventionals’ (which doesn’t include me). Now I’m going to shut up.

  25. ii have no romantic feelings about fracking:

    1 Nov: Bloomberg: Asjylyn Loder: Shale Drillers Feast on Junk Debt to Stay on Treadmill
    The U.S. drive for energy independence is backed by a surge in junk-rated borrowing that’s been as vital as the technological breakthroughs that enabled the drilling spree…
    Cheap debt, along with advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, have propelled U.S. oil output to a 26-year high…
    “Who can, or will want to, fund the drilling of millions of acres and hundreds of thousands of wells at an ongoing loss?” Ivan Sandrea, a research associate at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies in England, wrote in a report last month. “The benevolence of the U.S. capital markets cannot last forever.” …
    “The whole boom in shale is really a treadmill of capital spending and debt,” Chauhan said.
    Access to the high-yield bond market has enabled shale drillers to spend more money than they bring in. Junk-rated exploration and production companies spent $2.11 for every $1 earned last year, according to a Barclays analysis of 37 firms…
    “It’s a perfect set-up for investors to lose a lot of money,” Gramatovich said. “The model is unsustainable.”

    8 Sept: Bloomberg: Asjylyn Loder: Drillers Piling Up More Debt Than Oil Hunting Fortunes in Shale
    Companies are paying a steep price for the gains. Like Halcon, most are spending money faster than they make it, an average of $1.17 for every dollar earned in the 12 months ended on June 30. Only seven of the U.S.-listed firms in Bloomberg Intelligence’s E&P index made more money in that time than it cost them to keep drilling…
    These companies are plugging cash shortfalls with junk-rated debt. They owed $190.2 billion at the end of June, up from $140.2 billion at the end of 2011…
    Money manager Tim Gramatovich sees disaster looming in the industry.
    “I have lent money to nobody in this space, and I don’t plan to. This thing is absolutely going to blow sky-high,” says Gramatovich, chief investment officer of Peritus Asset Management LLC in Santa Barbara, California…
    Discrepancies between proved reserves and resource potential are common in the industry, and investors can get duped, says Ed Hirs, a managing director at Houston-based Hillhouse Resources LLC, an independent energy company, who also teaches energy economics at the University of Houston.
    “There’s a lot of ways to make money in the oil and gas business, and not all of them involve drilling for oil,” he says. “You just drill investors’ pocketbooks. When investors are willing to throw money at you, you can just make money on that. It’s a time-honored tradition.” …

    • Now this is some worthwhile intelligence. This is an evil portent for the hyped-up shale fracking. Junk bonds will run out as even the dumbest investor catches on.

    • I would be a little slow to jump on the Bloomberg bandwagon here. Remember he plays political games that are not necessarily good for the U.S. economy.

      The financial situation with fracking is undergoing a severe test at the moment as Saudi Arabia attempts to undermine the U.S. boom with a price war. We will all know soon how stable this growth is, I suspect.

      One of the things I remember about various oil booms over the decades is that more drillers lose their shirts than hit it big. It’s the striving to be one of the winners that drives them. Winning can pay overwhelmingly large dividends.

    • Ralfellis: 1. I presume you didn´t intend to write “liquid nitrogen OF liquid CO2”. The article states liquid nitrogen. Liquid CO2 is an alternative. So is liquid methane. All of these products are presumably pumped at high pressure into the well. These operations are carried out with steel pipes connected to the well, which is also equipped with a set of concentric steel pipes. 2. If your question involves the injected fluids escaping from rocks 2000 meters below the surface….once the fluids are injected into the rocks they tend to stay there. Why? Because fluids have a really hard time flowing vertically through 2000 meters of rock. This has nothing to do with Lake Nyos.

      • >>Liquid CO2 is an alternative.

        Yeah, which is why my ‘OF’ was a mistyped ‘OR’. Perhaps you have never looked, but the ‘f’ is next to the ‘r’ on a keyboard. i.e.: “liquid nitrogen OR liquid CO2″ Get it now?

        >>Because fluids have a really hard time flowing
        >>vertically through 2000 meters of rock.

        If there is a drill-hole that can deliver the CO2 or Nitrogen 2000 m down, there is a drill-hole through which that same CO2 or Nitrogen can escape. How do you think well blow-outs like the Deepwater Horizon occur?? Did you think all that oil all came out by “flowing vertically through 2000 meters of rock” ???

        Geeez, Fernando, please do get up to speed.


  26. But all that nitrogen would leak into the atmosphere! We could end up with nitrogen making up 78.09% of the atmosphere. What disasters would befall us then?

  27. Some (possibly) useful numbers:
    It takes about 4 MJ to produce 1 cubic meter of LN2 (http://liquidair.org.uk/full-report/report-chapter-two).
    1 Cubic meter (scm) of natural gas produces about 36 MJ of energy.
    Then there will be higher tooling costs–the LN2 would be pumped down at ground temperature and high pressure (same as in my lab). The actual cooling happens on expansion.
    At the end of the day, everything comes down to yield. If cryo-fracking increases the total yield from a given volume then it could win, but I don’t have a good source to say what the yield would be from 1 cubic meter of LN2. If, over time, it releases more than 1 cubic meter (scm) of natural gas, it could be competitive.

    • As far as I could tell the cooling is achieved by pumping cryogenic fluids into the well, using the latent heat at depth to cool the rocks. This is why the idea is pretty crazy.

  28. Currently, CO2 fracs are done creating a foam that carries the proppant (sand, ceramic) and that sand concentration has to be fairly high (think about the difference between keeping a cup of sand suspended in a bucket of water vs keeping five cups of sand suspended in the same bucket of water without letting any sand settle at the bottom of the bucket. The thicker the liquid you’re stirring up, the easier it is to keep more sand suspended)
    Because as mentioned, hydraulic fracs aren’t just about breaking the rock, but keeping the channels open, and to you have to put the sand or other proppant down the hole in large volumes without clogging the casing/tubing (hopefully, you’re doing a casing frac, because fracking down tubing limits your pressure profile and limits the amount of sand concentration you’re pushing down there. Much of it has to do with friction)
    After the foam (or water gel, in the case of water fracs) conducts the massive amounts of sand down the hole, the foam has to break up.

    Foams made to use with CO2 break up too soon. The risk the highly concentrated sand mixture will clog up your casing, causing an expensive massive delay in your operations, is fairly high. It’s the creation of a stable foam to be used with CO2 that well predictably breakdown that is the limit. Anything else, (expansion/contraction of metal with temperature differentials, etc) come second to the main problem of getting the proppant down there.

    I believe Nitrogen foam also has issues along the same lines

    The foams that work with propane I believe are much more stable than the ones made from other gasses, but I think the concentration of sand downhole is still less than with a good gel frac. Add to that, you’re working with propane under pressure, and I know a few frac advisement firms (yes, there are independent advisers you pay to tell you how best to frac a well–these competing ‘recipes’ for fracking yield different returns on the significant investment) that will NOT work with a propane frac.

    In other words, what works now carries less risk vs reward than experimental.

  29. Fracking with gelled propane is practiced by a Canadian company called GasFrac. Checkout the company and its claims at http://www.gasfrac.com. ( I am not affiliated with the company. I own no stock in the company and do not plan to buy/short the stock in the next 72 hours)

  30. Waterless fracking is not new. Various types of gas fracks have been done for well over 40 years. The reason that all fracks are not waterless is that they on average cost a lot more and in some types of formations are not feasible. They won’t work or can’t be done. (Note. there have been almost 2 million fracks done in the US since around 1950).

    From time to time, there are articles extolling the virtues of gas fracks. Usually, they are from someone who didn’t even know that gas fracks have been around for several decades or are written to promote companies that do gas fracks.

    Should gas fracks be mandated by government, the economic and technical problems with gas fracks are so large that it would reverse the growth of shale oil and gas. That said, where gas fracks are economical and work, they are already being requested by oil companies. Several service companies do gas fracks including Gasfrac, Halliburton and Baker Hughes among others.

    The other issue is water. It is assumed that fracking causes large amounts of water to be polluted. In reality, the main non-organic chemical that is “polluting” is the chemical to kill Algae and bacteria that must be used prior to fracking. Bacteria and algae cause biological films (crud) to form that would plug up pores in the well preventing production. Additionally, they don’t want live bacteria in the well. The chemicals to kill the bacteria and algae are similar to those used in swimming pools to keep water free of Algae and bacteria. Once the frac water flows back out of the well, the oil industry has methods worked out to clean the water and have had such methods for decades. These methods have been regulated by various states for decades. That is why there are few documented cases of frack water actually polluting anything. There is also a growing movement to reuse frack water in wells over and over. So, the water is used to frack a well. Later the water flows back out, is cleaned and gathered and used in another frack.

    Many might wonder if the above is true, why the alarm over fracking? There have been occasional wells that leak or frack water overflowing out of a retention pond before it is cleaned up perhaps due bad weather and rainwater runoff which cause a retention pond to overflow. But the risk from the frack water is low. A similar risk would be from someone dumping a couple of gallons of chemicals for cleaning their pool into an irrigation ditch that goes out to a river. Any oil well that leaks though is typically labeled as a “fracking problem” when in fact, a well that leaks has nothing to do with fracking. The reason to label any oil well issue as a problem with fracking is that the public has been convinced fracking is a scary problem. A headline about fracking “leads the news because it bleeds” at least in the gullible imagination of the public.

  31. Its does no matter it they only used fairy dust and rocking horse sh*t , fracking is opposed because it is threat .
    That is a threat the green dreams of having the type of energy shortages that mean their madder ideas can be forced onto the people and a threat to those who find that the easiest and more profitable type of farming is subside farming from renewables . Like much in this area , it is not about the science.

    So many positive “here is what can be done” or “here is what has been done” or “watch for this” or “yes it can be done this way but with care”………Yes, not only the engineering/science aspects but also the economics.
    Very little nonsense on this thread.
    Great contributions.
    There is hope, reminds me of two young students at Penn State Mining Engineering School talking to me recently.
    Yes we can do it!

    Here in Western Pennsylvania there is a “boom in fracking” as you well know.
    Two years ago, a Company proposed to sign a contract for fracking on a college campus.
    I was hoping this would be accepted and not only provide $ for the college but a great learning laboratory for the students. But no. Green opposition won.
    Can you imagine fracking on a college campus.
    With all the students there close to the action, able to visit the site, ask questions, get the faculty involved, get all the departments involved: engineering, biology, chemistry, law, …….invite students from other colleges, learn that yes we need energy and yes we must do it in a responsible way.

    But NO. The Greens won. Very sad. Wasted opportunity.

  33. Don’t get too excited about this – the economics of this just don’t wash. The N2 and CO2 are expensive, the tubing and casing have to be very strong which means expensive, there is no way of placing the proppant reliably for optimum recovery which means flow rates won’t be anywhere near as good as gelled water fracs which means revenues will be lower and for not as long. I’ve been fraccing since 1982 (and still fraccing) and designing wells and managing well integrity for years. And safety issues are greater.

  34. Nice to get the economics side and the safety issues as well as engineering side.
    We need to get all issues discussed and your experience is what we need.
    Not the Green nonsense.

  35. Part humor, part real info. Landfills produce CO2 which is often removed with the H2S and other impurities from the gas stream to increase methane value. The CO2 is pretty easy to purify and there is a lot of it, about 46% of Landfill Gas.
    The landfill I work at regularly produces over 4000 cfm every minute of every day. Even with the water out we produce 1500 scfm of CO2. There are a lot of landfills.

    • So in this respect I guess it means that landfills are really good for the biosphere? There’s a lot of humor to be had here. I bet the greenies don’t find this funny at all. It gives me great satisfaction and a smile to think about that.

  36. The greenies wanted CO2 pumped underground and science seems about to oblige them. They should be happy about this latest development.

    Won’t they?

    Nah,of course not. There’s no such thing as a happy greenie.

  37. Heck, in eastern Kentucky they’ve been fracking with LN for -literally- one hundred years. The Devonian shales there are ~1,000 feet down and full of clay. Fracking with water would cause the clay to expand and reduce porosity. I don’t know if this method could be extended to deeper formations or not: pressure increases by ~400 psi per each thousand feet of depth, so there may be a practical limit to liquid nitrogen fracking. It is/was widely used in Lawrence, Magoffin, and Johnson counties.

  38. I’m guessing this will be too expensive to be widely adopted (other than near-wellbore clean up/skin removal as has been done for decades and decades). Also, the density and viscosity of liquid nitrogen are less amenable to proppant emplacement. I also suspect these wells will be less productive in comparison but hope to be proven wrong.

  39. I was idly wondering whether fracking needs to use a liquid agent at all, rather than a pressurised gas, but I see from a comment above that the idea of ‘gas fracks’ is already familiar but they are more expensive. Still, from an environmental point of view the ideal agent would surely be compressed air – hot, cold, or room temperature – since even the looniest Green couldn’t complain about leaks of air! (Or could they??)

  40. I’ve recently seen cryogenic tank trucks at well sites here in northern Oklahoma during well completion. There were also conventional frac tanks and temporary water lines to the sites. I don’t think it is anything particularly new or unique.

    • It is the controlled application and release of that very, very high pressure in the rocks at controlled positions along the outer pipe casing that is the key to “fracking” underground. Liquid air (liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen) is very, very difficult to work with because of their extreme cold causes metallurgy and containment problems and safety problems. Not insurmountable of course, but working at -200 degrees and colder is expensive. And, the energy to pressurize, chill, then store and handle liquid air and the facilities and cryogenic storage of the liquid air itself is very expensive – especially compared to “simple” water and sand and “room-temperature” injection of high-pressure “safe” mud.

      Spill water? People don’t get killed. Spill “mud” from a simple fracking truck? People get dirty cleaning it up with hoses and shovels.
      Have a traffic accident with a liquid N2 truck? People die.
      Have a train accident at a railroad crossing with a liquid oxygen truck? Neighborhoods, whole towns get blown up.

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