Is China’s plan to use a nuclear bomb detonator to release shale gas in earthquake-prone Sichuan crazy or brilliant?

From The South China Morning Post

  • Scientists have developed an ‘energy rod’ that can fire multiple shock waves to frack sedimentary rock at depths of up to 3.5km
  • China has the world’s largest reserves of natural gas but current mining technology makes most of it inaccessible

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2019, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2019, 11:29pm

China is planning to apply the same technology used to detonate a nuclear bomb over Hiroshima during the second world war to access its massive shale gas reserves in Sichuan province. While success would mean a giant leap forward not only for the industry but also Beijing’s energy self-sufficiency ambitions, some observers are concerned about the potential risk of widespread drilling for the fuel in a region known for its devastating earthquakes.

Despite being home to the largest reserves of shale gas on the planet – about 31.6 trillion cubic metres according to 2015 figures from the US Energy Information Administration, or twice as much as the United States and Australia combined – China is the world’s biggest importer of natural gas, with about 40 per cent of its annual requirement coming from overseas.

In 2017, it produced just 6 billion cubic metres of shale gas, or about 6 per cent of its natural gas output for the whole year.

Photo: Xinhua

The problem is that 80 per cent of its deposits are located more than 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) below sea level, which is far beyond the range of hydraulic fracturing, the standard method for extraction.

But all that could be about to change, after a team of nuclear weapons scientists led by Professor Zhang Yongming from the State Key Laboratory of Controlled Shock Waves at Xian Jiaotong University in Shaanxi province, released details of a new “energy rod” that has the power to plumb depths never before thought possible.

Unlike hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is more commonly known, which uses highly pressurised jets of water to release gas deposits trapped in sedimentary rock, Zhang’s torpedo-shaped device uses a powerful electric current to generate concentrated, precisely controlled shock waves to achieve the same result.

He told the South China Morning Post that while the technology had yet to be applied outside the laboratory, the first field test was set to take place in Sichuan in March or April.

“We are about to see the result of a decade’s work,” he said.

Chen Jun, a professor at Southwest Petroleum University in Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital, is not involved with the programme but said he was eagerly awaiting the results of the trials.

“A technological breakthrough could trigger another shale gas revolution,” he said.

Shale gas is another name for methane (or natural gas) that is trapped in impermeable rock deep underground. Unlike conventional natural gas which is in permeable rocks, shale gas does not flow and so cannot be reached by simply drilling a well.

The widespread use of fracking in the United States began in 2007 and heralded a boom in energy production in the country. In the decade that followed its natural gas output rose 40 per cent, prices fell by more than two thirds and America went from importer to exporter.

One of the main reasons for the success of the so called shale gas revolution was the relative accessibility of the fuel. In many cases, including at several sites in Pennsylvania and New York state, the deposits were found just a few hundred metres below ground.

The deeper the shale beds, the higher the water pressure needed to frack the rock and release the gas. Reaching China’s reserves, at 3.5km (2.2 miles) underground, would require a water pressure of about 100 megapascals, or about the same as is found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, the deepest point on Earth.

No pump, pipe or drill shaft wall material has the strength to withstand such a crush.

No surprise then that previous efforts to tap into China’s rich gas seams by state-owned energy giants like Sinopec and CNPC, often working in partnership with US firms, failed to deliver.

Unlike conventional natural gas which is in permeable rocks, shale gas does not flow and so cannot be reached by simply drilling a well. Photo: Bloomberg

Zhang hopes his alternative, developed by a team that has worked on some of the world’s most advanced nuclear weapons systems, can change all that, but he also knows the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

“The technology was born in a dust-free laboratory,” he said. “Not many people believe it can be used in a mine.”

Zhang and his team have dubbed their creation an “energy concentration rod” as it is able to control the release of explosive bolts of energy into an extremely short, precisely calculated period of time so as to maximise the fracturing effect of the shock waves.

It works by passing a strong electric current along a specially coated wire coil – encased by a metal shell – that is submerged in water. When the wire vaporises it produces a cloud of plasma – the extremely hot, electrically charged matter that makes up the sun – within which is a huge amount of energy just waiting to be released.

“The shock wave generated by the device can be as high as 200 megapascals at close range, which is expected to produce a fracture zone up to 50 metres in diameter,” Zhang said.

The method, known as exploding wire, enables scientists to control the energy, duration and even direction of the explosion. The same principle was used to detonate the atomic bomb code named “Little Boy” that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Despite that commonality, Zhang’s device does not create a nuclear blast, so is fundamentally different to what the United States was doing in the 1960s, when scientists there detonated a nuclear bomb underground to boost natural gas production. The former Soviet Union also used thermal nuclear weapons for mining and in dam construction.

Also, unlike a traditional detonator, which fires just once, Zhang’s energy rod has been designed to withstand hundreds of massive blasts.

After each one, the rod is hoisted back up the shaft and a jet of water is injected under high pressure into the cavity to further open up the rock. The rod is then lowered back into position and is ready to fire again.

The device can “generate shock waves repeatedly … like a machine gun”, Zhang said, adding that because the wire was encased and submerged the rod did not generate sparks, so reducing the safety risk.

While the scientist has concerns about how well his creation will work in shale rock, it has already been used to release potentially hazardous gas deposits from coal beds and is now recommended by the government as a way to improve both safety and productivity in the mining industry.

Chen Jun, a professor at Southwest Petroleum University in Chengdu, said a technological breakthrough could trigger another shale gas revolution. Photo: Bloomberg

Wang Chengwen, a professor at the China University of Petroleum in Qingdao, Shandong province, said that one of the advantages of the new technology was that it was potentially more environmentally friendly than other fracking methods.

The waste water generated by traditional shale gas production contained large amounts of toxic chemicals that could contaminate rivers and underground water sources, he said.

However, it was yet to be seen if the force generated by the rod would be enough to fracture rocks at such extreme depths, he said.

Read the full article here.

HT/The GWPF


UPDATE: Some people in comments are calling this article “clickbait” because the system uses the word “Nuclear”, and they can’t visualize how vaporizing a hot wire with sudden and massive electrical input could be used to trigger a nuclear explosive device.

The technology is called an “exploding bridgewire detonator” and can be read about (along with other techniques used in nuclear detonation, here: https://nuclear-knowledge.com/detonators.php

Next time, web search is your friend. – Anthony

UPDATE 2:

It’s the title of the original article.

And nuclear bomb detonator, does not mean nuclear detonator. ~ctm

 

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161 thoughts on “Is China’s plan to use a nuclear bomb detonator to release shale gas in earthquake-prone Sichuan crazy or brilliant?

  1. So it’s just a conventional explosive and the n-word was really just being used as clickbait to help further inflame anti-fracking sentiments?

    It seems fine to me. Explosives are used everyday in mining, with appropriate precautions.

    • It doesn’t use explosives, but it isn’t the type of detonator used on either of the early bombs either.

        • Marcus, you’ve been banned in the past for posting a plethora of inane and pointless comments. This morning you’ve been on a tear. I’m rethinking your presence here again.

          • Mike January 31, 2019 at 7:39 am
            “Yep – click bait. Please don’t become the Yahoo of Climate Change.”
            Anthony, I’m a little confused..Are you agreeing with the above claim by Mark about” CLICK BAIT ?
            Also, in case your other pointless, non inane followers are interested, I have a way of “editing” our comments..Open 2 Tabs for each (click bait)?, and then back page to edit..Works for me but my PC is 30 years old that I have rebuilt since I was 16.

          • ‘Yes anthony, I will stop reading your “Click Bait..Name one F&@ing thing that I said that was inappropriate ? I use to believe that you were above noise..Obviously I was wrong. JoNova is 100 X better than your latest pathetic shit…Maybe you should have left “Charles In Charge” …. If you are a man with morals, you will allow this, if not….well,…..,

        • Some people in comments are calling this article “clickbait” because the system uses the word “Nuclear”, and they can’t visualize how vaporizing a hot wire with sudden and massive electrical input could be used to trigger a nuclear explosive device.

          The technology is called an “exploding bridgewire detonator” and can be read about (along with other techniques used in nuclear detonation), here: https://nuclear-knowledge.com/detonators.php
          Next time, web search is your friend. – Anthony

          • Anthony, in addition to the title, the original article also says:

            “China is planning to apply the same technology used to detonate a nuclear bomb over Hiroshima during the second world war to access its massive shale gas reserves in Sichuan province.”

            I still maintain that this reads like an article designed to make the casual, and possibly ill-informed, reader think that the device is somehow nuclear. This is pretty much standard fare in environmental alarmism because they know that associating something with nuclear power or nuclear bombs generates fear. While it is possible the authors could claim to not be trying to induce fear, it still looks like click-bait to me, as a minimum.

            Further, my web searches still reveal that the Hiroshima bomb they reference used a conventional chemical explosive (cordite).

          • Yes, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs used conventional explosives to either fire the U235 gun, or compress the Plutonium sphere. I will say this, the original author got the bombs mixed up. The Hiroshima bomb (Little Boy) didn’t use the specialized detonator, but the Nagasaki bomb (Fat Man) did, using multitudes of the Explosive Bridge Wire “EBW” detonators. See the diagram on Fat Man here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fat_Man

            But this is the detonator, not the explosive used in the fracking method. The EBW detonator was designed to give a very precise but smaller explosion to properly set off ALL of the the conventional chemical explosives at just the right moment and with the right coverage, leaving no explosive un-detonated. If the detonation was not uniform and precisely timed, super-critical mass would not be achieved, and a full cascade fission reaction would not have occurred, leaving what we call today a “dirty bomb”. Then there’s the neutron source, and Krytons…but that’s another story.

            More here about why it is so hard https://www.livescience.com/5752-hard-nuclear-weapons.html

            Otherwise, they could have just used a blasting cap.

            Again, the EBW detonator used in the fracking article is narrowly specific to nuclear bombs, but the original author got the bombs/cities mixed up. Since EBW detonators were in fact used in Fat Man, and since the headline makes no distinction, it is still valid and will stand as is.

          • It’s the title of the original article.

            And nuclear bomb detonator, does not mean nuclear detonator.

      • It’s the title of the original article.

        And nuclear bomb detonator, does not mean nuclear detonator.

    • But rapid fire that “generate shock waves repeatedly … like a machine gun” won’t be all that rapid if they are hauling this thing up from depth after every ‘shot’. A very slow machine gun.

      Most telling are the statements regarding the technological readiness state of this device. “The technology was born in a dust-free laboratory,” he said. “Not many people believe it can be used in a mine.” In my industry we call prototypes which have only ever been tested in the lab ‘iron birds’. Often some non-engineer will think that all we have to do now it send it down a well. None of the components have been field tested in the not-so-pristine environs of a well bore, but sure it might work.

      BTW scientist rarely ‘develop’ functional hardware if ever. Engineers do that job.
      As I’ve said many a time, “Rocket science is easy…rocket engineering is a bitch!”
      Orbital calculations are freshmen level math. Making a machine that will actually accomplish that trajectory, reliably and safely, is several orders of magnitude more difficult.

    • Vaporizing a wire doesn’t sound like a conventional explosive to me. However you are absolutely correct in that this device isn’t nuclear, not even a close relative of nuclear.

      • Some people in comments are calling this article “clickbait” because the system uses the word “Nuclear”, and they can’t visualize how vaporizing a hot wire with sudden and massive electrical input could be used to trigger a nuclear explosive device.

        The technology is called a “exploding bridgewire detonator” and can be read about (along with other techniques used in nuclear detonation, here: https://nuclear-knowledge.com/detonators.php

        Next time, web search is your friend. – Anthony

        • I would say that while labeling the device as similar to detonators used in nuclear bombs is entirely accurate, it is also entirely unnecessary to understand the device in question.

          Bringing in irrelevant details of a highly emotional nature, is always suspect.

          • MarkW

            Interesting comment. And why is “nuclear” an emotional word? Is it because protesters, in their ignorance of nuclear power (many think power plants can cause a nuclear explosion), clamour for the banning of anything that involves fission or fusion?

            I was raised within the “blast radius” of the CANDU reactors in Pickering. For me, “protester” is an emotional word.

    • A giant explosion “sounds Much Cleaner” than pumping water into the ground to hydraulically crack a precise layer of rock?

      You might want to have your ears checked.

      • No, he’s right. This thing is basically just an explosive powered trip hammer. The ‘bang’ goes off inside it and forces the ‘head’ forward into the rock hard enough to Crack it. It even sounds like it’s supposed to fire multiple times before it needs to be returned to the surface to be reloaded.

        Frankly I don’t even see why this would be a concern for seismically active regions.

        ~¿~

        • Me neither, ….. cause I was thinking that if one triggered a “rock shattering” explosion in a seismically active regions it would surely cause a partial release of the “built-up” energy …. thus lessening the odds of a devastating earthquake.

        • It’s only a concern if one does not understand Fracking. It isn’t actually the Fracking process itself that correlates with earthquake activity in places like Oklahoma, but instead the waste injection process used to force waste brine and fracking solvents into the ground once fracking is done. Typically a lot of fracked wells will have trucks haul off their waste water to the waste injection site, and then the waste is forced under very high pressure into the underlying strata.

          The more pressure used and the higher the volume of waste injected correlates in certain vulnerable places to an increase of small to the occasional medium (5.6) earthquakes. The theory is that the high pressure water is lubricating a preexisting fault line allowing it to slip.

          If their new method of fracking reduces waste that must be disposed of, then there would seem to be little chance of activating a fault, assuming the theory is correct.

          • Correct and this method doesn’t make the risk greater or less than conventional fracking because it is the bore pressurization designed to open the small initial fracture marks that is the risk.

      • i quote from the article:

        The waste water generated by traditional shale gas production contained large amounts of toxic chemicals that could contaminate rivers and underground water sources, he said.

        curious that they will admit that when the media and the companies keep denying that theres any risk to water?

        Aussie bans and moratoriums and lock the gate campaigns seem rather sane.

    • I also hope it works for what it could mean for Fracking as an industry.
      China is Definitely a Developed Country

    • Who’s making such a proposal, and why do you believe it would be a bad thing?

      Remember depleted Uranium is Uranium from which the radioactive isotopes have been removed.

      • DU is still radioactive, just not as much as natural U. It’s typically less than half as radioactive. US DoD DU is about 40% as radioactive as natural U.

        https://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1018z7/mr1018.7.chap1.html

        DU is less radioactive than naturally occurring uranium because it has fewer of the more radioactive isotopes per unit weight than does natural uranium. Naturally occurring uranium contains a mixture of three different isotopes:[1] 234U, 235U, and 238U. Uranium-238, 235U, and 234U constitute 99.2745 percent, 0.7200 percent, and 0.0055 percent, respectively, of the weight of naturally occurring uranium.

      • My reply has yet to appear. In case it doesn’t, I’ll just observe that not all radioactive isotopes can be removed from DU. It’s half or less as radioactive as natural U.

        The US Navy switched from DU penetrators for its 20mm Phalanx CIWS to tungsten out of concern for safety of sailors bunking close to the large magazines for these 3000 rpm (now 4500) Gatling guns.

      • Some company has patented the process. Radiological and chemical (heavy metal) toxicities are my concern. From what I’ve read uranium oxides are very toxic when breathed. I’d prefer to not breath it when cooking with gas.

        • /pacepalm

          Okay basic chemistry Uranium has an atomic weight of 238.03 for reference gold has an atomic weight of 196 so the atom is heavier than gold. Being so dense there are very few bindings which will yield a gas at room temperatures, if any. Off the top of my head the only one I can think of is Uranium hexafluoride which is a gas at 50 degree C so not room temperature and wouldn’t go thru your normal city gas line (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium_hexafluoride).

          Ones like Uranium dioxide only become a gas at 2,865 °C

          So worrying that some sort of uranium gas is going to crawl out your natural gas supply is a little bit over the top.

    • Icisil,
      What on Earth are you talking about? References?
      Depleted uranium has some useful properties. It is high density, so a lot of weight in a small volume. Used in the keep region of racing yachts to help keep the mast point upright. It has negligible radioactive decay intensity because its half life of billions of years means that the decay events are a long, long time apart. I cannot think of any use of depleted uranium where radioactivity would remotely pose health problem. DU is also relatively inert, especially if used as it’s metal oxide rather than the metal itself. Like most metals, it will burn in oxygen and air when heated to high temperatures.
      What is your worry? Or are you just clickbaiting yourself, hoping to implant in the minds of innocent people that uranium and anything to do with it, is full of fear and must be avoided? Come on, tell us why you wrote what you did, because I did not think it was /sarc.
      Credentials. A company I worked for many years was one of the world’s largest miners/ producers of yellow cake, the material that has brought cheap, reliable, safe nuclear electricity to millions on millions of people. Geoff

    • Agreed.

      Who wrote the line, “The problem is that 80 per cent of its deposits are located more than 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) below sea level, which is far beyond the range of hydraulic fracturing, the standard method for extraction.”

      This is just wrong.

      • You’re probably right but they gave a subsea depth not a total vertical depth. They’re also using made in China drill pipe.

      • “No pump, pipe or drill shaft wall material has the strength to withstand such a crush.” The idea that those pressures will collapse the drill pipe is just ignorant. The drilling mud has slighly more density than the surrounding rock so as to keep the hole open ( the triaxial pressures at that depth will make cabonate ceneted rock deform plastically.) The mud is filled with: Barite, Bentonite, friction reducers, PH buffers, etc. Additionally continually adjusted for density. The higher mud density also helps bring the chips to the surface. The chips are cleaned and analysed for fossils and pollens, for sedimentary stratigrapy and the hydrocarbons are run through a mass spec for hydrocarbon stratigraphy.

        I have used exploding bridge wires to generate sharp seismic pulses. I set the wires off in a water filled balloon pushed against a concrete structure I did not wish to damage with a seismic sledge hammer. The wire generates an oscillating bubble that generates the pulse envelope. It will be interesting to see if an oscillating bubble can be generated at 12K psi.

        In a later experiment I determined that the wire was not nescessary: adding salt to the water in the balloon worked just a well if not better.

  2. “The waste water generated by traditional shale gas production contained large amounts of toxic chemicals that could contaminate rivers and underground water sources, he said”

    Except that this has not occurred in the West. Nobody really knows what has occurred or not occurred in China.

    Some people don’t find that it’s enough to push their technology. They have to bad mouth the competition with scare stories. Some of the CO2 scare that we are facing today was promoted by nuclear and NatGas interests to demonize coal.

    • large amounts of toxic chemicals that could contaminate —- underground water sources,

      Except for the fact that iffen the underground water source(s) are situate at or near the depth of the gas deposit being ”fracked”, …… then only MILLIONAIRES could afford to drill a water well.

      Thus, contamination of water wells are as scarcest as hen ‘s teeth .

      • The naive concern was that the drill hole traverses a near surface water aquifer near the surface and as the fracking fluid is filled in the hole it creates a connection to the aquifer. The obvious fail of this idea is if you traversed such an aquifer you would have to case it off to get pressurization anyhow.

        • “HA”, ….. the obvious fail is the fact that drill “casing” is inserted as the hole is drilled.

          Think of “offshore” drilling.

          • You don’t have to case a hole you can using drilling fluid
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drilling_fluid

            The main functions of drilling fluids include providing hydrostatic pressure to prevent formation fluids from entering into the well bore

            Now however when you try to pressurize the borehole to frack that won’t work

            So a casing may or may not be there in many situations

          • You don’t have to case a hole

            LdB, what if it’s a “screamer”, …… like 6,000 psi NG pressure at the well head?

    • “Except that this has not occurred in the West.”

      What HAS occurred in the West was “Deep Water Horizon.”

  3. This has about as much to do with nuclear weapons as the bolts holding the casing together.

    Shaped charges need a fast detonator, so this type of detonator was developed for them. Implosion-type nuclear weapons use shaped charges, so they use this kind of detonator. So do all other users of shaped charges, such as explosive forming or welding….

    • “Shaped charges need a fast detonator…” – sort of, in the sense that they were trying to get instantaneous detonation, but the desired effect was simultaneity.

      The problem was not the speed but accuracy to get the charges going off simultaneously so that the spherical shell was “imploded,” not blown apart. Conventional pyrotechnic delays simply could not be that accurate.

      • Lcf,
        Nice to have a comment on this thread from someone who knows what he/she is a talking about. Thank you. Geoff

  4. The article’s authors don’t know much about natural gas drilling. Wells are fracked all the time deeper than 2.2 miles. A company I own, Valeura Energy, just reported reaching total depth of 4,800+ meters that had gas shows all the way to the bottom. They will easily frack the deepest parts. The Davy Jones well in the Gulf of Mexico was fracked at 19,000+ feet. I was always under the impression that the problem with China’s shale was that it had a high clay content and wasn’t easily fracked.

    • I think you are onto something there, Nelson. The China shales are clayey, say some reports, and this promotes a shallower brittle to plastic transition. Fracking, detonations, water injection, etc don’t cause earthquakes, they promote the earlier release of accumulating stress induced by differential movement of rocks. Frack Em!

      • The problem with plastic shales is that they will close around the proppant and null out the well stimulation.

    • The Paleozoic Longmaxi marine shale in Sichuan Basin has a low clay content similar to many NAm shales. The Chinese Mesozoic lacustrine shales do indeed have higher clay content, where the challenge to keep the fractures propped open due to ease of clay-particle deformation and high closure stress.

      But the extreme depth of some of the shales in Sichuan Basin represents a new frontier – where high ‘breakdown’ pressures at depth could exceed wellhead strength at the surface. This is something to watch.

      • This why straddle packers are used. the frac confined to the area of the casing perforations. This is done for each set of perforations.

    • If the shale is of high clay content and plastic they won’t have much long term success no matter how they frack it.

      • Doug

        I am not so pessimistic. A Dynamic Materials Analyser (DMA) is used to find the frequency at which plastic materials become rigid. This is an emergent property and cannot be predicted. At some energy and frequency, the material will shatter and the possibility to inject a proppant exists. Perhaps it will happen in a staged process of pre-loading the proppant and using it as a conductor. Who knows? People are clever.

    • The steel drill pipe they use overseas is often not as high quality and unable to drill that deep before twisting.

    • This is Chinese journalism and a bit of a put down of US success. Fracking tech improvements have continued in US even after China gave up. I suspect the failed crews have these kinds of excuses to the commissariat in Beijing! I’ve visited some Chinese industrial plants in the past few years and was surprised to see 1950s tech taken straight off old US parents. They aren’t strong on innovation – which is more of a free enterprise trait. You could end up an enemy of the people if your efforts arent successful.

  5. I don’t see any connection at all between this device, as it is described, with a nuclear fission detonation. The only relationship is that both devices release a lot of energy in a concentrated area.

    The headline and the hype seem to be nothing more than scary click-baiting, trolling for readers.

  6. The same principle was used to detonate the atomic bomb code named “Little Boy” that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
    Zhang’s device does not create a nuclear blast

    so nothing to do with a nuclear bomb then. That’s like mentioning Nuclear missiles in an article about Apollo rockets because they use similar ballistic principles for delivering their payloads (nukes and astronauts respectively). invoking the specter of nukes is just scary-sounding click-bait.

      • The exploding wire is just a conventional explosives detonator – it has nothing to do with fission per se, as the post and its headlines suggest. It’s only advantage is precision timing as compared to a standard blasting cap.

        • Try setting off a nuclear weapon like Fat Man using a blasting cap. You end up with a “dirty bomb” This detonator is SPECIFIC to nukes, no other use…until somebody decide to use them in a fracking device.

          • EBW’s are used when precisely timed explosions with many iniating points are need: such as creating small diamonds by slamming two large armor plates together, creating large storage tank end caps made of thick metal. The CDU (Capacitive Discharge Unit) is programmed to set off the EBS’w in a very specific sequence with accurate timing.

  7. The article didn’t even touch on one of title’s concerns…fracking (if you will) in an earthquake prone zone.

    Would explosions at those depths raise the risk of earth quakes? If so does it matter? I’m not trying to downplay the effects of earthquakes but if they are happening there already would triggering one more make much difference?

    • I’m not a geologist, but it might have opposite effect, small tremors produced with this type of technology might release built-up of pressures that eventually leads to more powerful quakes.

      • It depends on the level of stress build-up that already exists. If a monster earthquake was due to happen the Monday after – and was released a little early – the resulting disaster would be blamed on the explosion. Any small reduction in the magnitude of the earthquake wouldn’t matter.

  8. It’s a high energy electrical discharge. Not a nuke… but high energy electrical discharges do generate x-rays and gamma rays.

    • What this device does is pretty simple- it runs a huge amount of electrical energy through a wire, instantly turning the wire to plasma. I suppose there could be a minuscule amount of EM radiation emitted, but I doubt it would even be measurable. And under a couple of miles of rock, not even remotely an issue.

      The “nuclear” tie-in is misleading to the extreme, and deliberately so.

      • Given the rise times and the amount of current involved, the EM is going to be more than minuscule. Regardless, under so much rock nobody at the surface would be able to measure it.

  9. The USA has been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Look up Project Gasbuggy and Project Rulison on Wiki. Underground nuclear explosions to crack the gas-bearing formations. The tests worked. Lots of gas. But it was radioactive.

    • Did you read the article beyond the click-bait headline? there’s no nukes involved in the process under discussion.

      • Yes, I read beyond the click-bait. My reply was intended to be informative for others who brought up the underground nuclear explosion issue. The US had actually applied this method for fracturing geologic formations. Note that China is a signatory to the nuclear test treaty.

        • Does anyone recall scientists using the hot exhaust from a jet fighter engine (F4?) to create a very high current (4m A) used to generate an electrical shock in the ground, which in turn created an earthquake in a pre-stressed region in Turkey? The headline at the time claimed an earthquake making weapon had been developed.

          I presume it used the underground water just as the ‘wire” is used in this example.

          • @Crispin – your reply might have been for another post. Anyway, I checked on line with duckduckgo and didn’t find anything about an earthquake after a quick search. Potential typo “4m A” would be four milliamperes. 4 MA mega amperes would be the correct SI prefix. Allow me to digress. That reminds me of an unintentionally hilarious scene in a sci-fi movie where the Mole People were accumulating energy to take to the surface to conquer the world as we know it. A Mole Person said they had already collected 4 million electron volts (4 MeV). That is the energy carried in just one alpha particle. Allow another digression. Oilfield radioactivity can be a matter of concern for NORM (naturally occurring radioactive material). USGS has an introduction here:
            “Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) in … – USGS U.S. Geological Survey USGS Fact Sheet FS-142-99 September 1999 Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) in Produced Water and Oil-Field Equipment— An Issue for the Energy Industry A Introduction Naturally occurring radioactive elements such as uranium, radium, and radon are dissolved in very low concentrations during. . .”
            [Search domain pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-0142-99/fs-0142-99.pdf] https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/fs-0142-99/fs-0142-99.pdf

  10. As others have stated the “nuclear bomb” is just click-bate and should not have featured on a responsible site.

    The valid issue is earthquakes, which the article does not address. As I understand it we cannot alter the energy for earthquakes, however, we can trigger the earthquake before it would have happened naturally. The probable result will be more, smaller earthquakes. It is difficult to say if this is better or worse that letting a big quake happen naturally. On one hand, if the earthquakes are small enough, they will not do any real harm; on the other hand in a huge earthquake a lot of the energy just makes the rubble bounce and does not add to the harm. So if we can trigger tiny earthquakes, that is good, however, triggering large earthquakes is worse that having a smaller number of huge earthquakes naturally.

  11. Umm, this article is FULL of wrong information to the point that it is incoherent to anybody with much of a clue.
    Where should I start? I’ll go with some of the problems not addressed above:
    – Nobody in the industry calls gas and oil drilling “mining”!
    – The shales being fracked in PA, TX, and elsewhere are not hundreds of meters deep; they are many thousands of meters underground – 11,500 feet as mentioned in the article is a depth that US drillers have been reaching economically for a decade now; it is NOT unusually deep.
    – The described device may be able to withstand many uses, but it can’t be used “like a machine gun” unless it has the ability to automatically replace the bridge wires quickly, which I doubt it does.

    Fracking is done in earthquake zones in the US and has produced earthquakes before, primarily in Ohio and Oklahoma. Those earthquakes are no longer happening since drillers have learned how to avoid them.

    I suspect the real reason that China isn’t fracking their gas wells is lack of equipment and knowledge.

    • The article mentions how deep the fracking zone is, below sea level. We have no idea how deep it is compared to the actual surface they are working on.
      It’s information, but it is information with no value.

  12. Hydrostatic gradient is about 0.5 psi per foot or about 1 atmoshere (14 PSI) per 10 metres
    Fracture gradient is about 50% higher at 0.76 psi per foot
    So hydrostatic pressure at 3500 metres = about 6000 psi
    Frac pressure = about 9000 psi.
    Now I understand such pressures are quite achievable please comment Mssrs May or Middletonn ( I am just a wiggle picker)
    Now lets get fraccing earthquakes into perspective
    Quadrilla in the UK are currently limited by puisillanamous UK law to causing microtremors of up to 0.5 on the richter scale in fraccing operations Barely detectable at surface.about the same as dropping a rucksack of the table. The energy release is entirely that energy which was pumped into the fracture system by surface pump units. An earthquake is a release of tectonic strain energy which can be much more but we have no evidence of anything higher than magnitude 2.5 quake triggered remotely by fraccing which is barely detectable again=a big rucksack maybe or dropping a bulldozer down a flight of stairs sad for the buldozer but if you live 50 feet away out of the line of firte no big deal
    Would you rather live within a mile of a big quarry blast-….
    see link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkxKX8Z6vhY
    for a 50 tone bang – …
    or within a mile of a frasck caused by twenty diesel engines pumping water into the ground 10,000 feet down .Nobody moans about quarry blast damage

    • Thanks Alastair for talking about fracture gradients. To further explain, this means that surface pumping equipment only needs to produce the 3000 psi extra to reach the fracture pressure. This is easy.
      Second, I would worry about fractures reclosing in the time that the explosive tool is tripped (up, replace wire, back down) on the wire line. (Tripping on drill pipe is too slow and expensive.) In conventional fracking, the fracture water carries proppant with it to instantly fill the fractures.

      • Dont need wires. Electrolytes in the proppant will make it conductive, and work just as well as the wire.

    • It is not the energy you are putting in that matters, it is the energy stored as stresses in the rock that you might release that matters. The UK is not an earthquake zone, so there are not many stresses to release; some parts of China are earthquake zones.

    • Yes the UK law on this is grossly absurd on this. I suspect the result of greenblob lobby tactics and thick politicians, designed to stop fracking at any cost.
      Anything below 3 on the richter scale is not really to be bothered about. They should be called tremors not earthquakes. 0.5 on the scale is little more than a sneeze; undectable except by sensitive instruments.

    • Yes the UK law is grossly absurd on this. I suspect the result of greenblob lobby tactics and thick politicians, designed to stop fracking at any cost.
      Anything below 3 on the richter scale is not really to be bothered about. They should be called tremors not earthquakes. 0.5 on the scale is little more than a sneeze; undectable except by sensitive instruments.

    • You may have a point – I remember the deep sea mining of Manganese nodules – which actually was cover for trying to retrieve the deep sea remains of a sunken Russian sub.

  13. Two comments, I assume they use the precise timing control of the BWDs to enable beam forming to enable consistent shock waves towards a known direction, hence the nuke trigger reference which allows very precise timing control of explosive effect.

    I may have this second on wrong, but if I filled the bore hole with water, from top to bottom, the pressure at the bottom would be as ALASTAIR GRAY January 31, 2019 at 7:51 am suggests.

    If we then pressurized the water in the hole. the additional pressure input at the top of the hole is immediately transmitted to the bottom of the hole. So, we need only to generate 3000psi to get 9000psi at the bottom to frack.

  14. As long as they are not actually setting off a nuclear bomb in a natural gas reservoir I don’t see a problem. As for punching lots of holes in an active earthquake zone it is their rice bowl, they break it they eat the effects(so to speak).

  15. Either I’m seriously misunderstanding how this thing works, or there’s no way you can frack the stone for further away than a few feet from the pipe head.

    ~¿~

    • Fractures can be from several feet to dozens of feet, depending on rock properties.
      Fracture length in the well can be up to hundreds of feet. This system would not, seemingly, produce long fracture lenghts.

      • Rapid fracs produce star fracs around the well. Slow fracs produce long fracs in the direction of the maximim regional stress.

  16. In conventional fracking the sand particles keep the cracks open as the the fluid pressure breaks them open, and then keeps them going after the frac-fluid is removed to begin production. They work, simultaneously. The size, shape, and crush-resistance of the sand particles are carefully chosen. It is called prop-sand or simply proppant in the industry now for that reason. The sand grains prop open the cracks as they form under fluid pressure.

    https://geology.com/articles/frac-sand/

    When the pumps are turned off, the fractures deflate but do not close completely – because they are propped open by billions of grains of frac sand. This only occurs if enough sand grains to resist the force of the closing fractures have been delivered into the rock.

    The new fractures in the rock, propped open by the durable sand grains, form a network of pore space that allows petroleum fluids to flow out of the rock and into the well. Frac sand is known as a “proppant” because it props the fractures open.

    The way this electro-zapper is described, the shock waves make cracks out to a 25 meter radius. Then the device is extracted and high pressure frack fluid then goes in. That’s probably too late. Due to the depth pressure on the rock and temperatures, the shale would be nearly a plastic. So it seems to me the cracks in the near-plastic rock would quickly re-seal if the sand isn’t there immediately to prop open them open. Repeating the process over and over would simply turn the shale structure in the zone into dust in the immediate area, which would greatly attenuate the energy of success shock blasts from reaching further into the rock layer.

    • Like most news articles it is lacking in technical details, and I suspect the original description was in Chinese, inexpertly translated into English.

      The only way I can see this working is immersing it in frack fluid, the fluid with transmit the shock wave and the transient increase in pressure will help the fluid fracture the rock, after which the sand will hold the fractures open.

    • Instantaneous fracture closure as described in that set up sounds pretty likely. Figure about 1 psi per foot of depth overburden pressure in clastic rocks and you get a nice round 6,000 psi at 6,000 feet of depth (a reasonably shallow well). Any fractures created without proppant and 3 tons per square inch of overburden pressure are likely going to slam shut immediately.

    • The only way this could work is if the fraccing fluid with proppant is there when the shock-wave is generated. In that case it might be forced into the cracks as they form, but I am skeptical. The shock wave would move much faster than the fluid and the cracks would probably re-close before the fluid had time to enter them.

  17. Either way I expect nothing less than a full frontal Greenpeace activist assault IN China on this issue.

    I’m sure they will be well received…..

    They could also visit The Great Wall while they’re there. Immoral as it is.

  18. I’m curious about the capacitor used at depth.
    The ambient temperature goes up roughly 1C for every 200ft in depth.
    It seems that capacitors don’t like heat.

  19. I don’t see what the big deal is with the required 100 MPa pressure – that works out to 14,500 psi, well within the capabilities of any common engineering material. Unless it’s a misprint and they meant GPa.

    • Anyway the original article says

      “The deeper the shale beds, the higher the water pressure needed to frack the rock and release the gas. Reaching China’s reserves, at 3.5km (2.2 miles) underground, would require a water pressure of about 100 megapascals, or about the same as is found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, the deepest point on Earth.”

      as in the link THIS thread starts with.

  20. The Chinese article is bunk. They have the resources, but they misrepresent the US miracle with fracking. US (and Canada) plays are typically 1500m to 3000m deep (not a few hundred meters!), not much different than China’s. It takes 200m to turn a vertical hole to horizontal as you approach the desired depth. Moreover, the first 800 m to 1000m depth is under hydrostatic pressure (waterwell maximum depths), and much of the originally producible locked in gas and oil has escaped. The bunk sounds a bit like the kind of excuse that might be given to the commissariat on why their fracking failed!

    Pressures down to 3000m in sedimentary rocks are about 65,000 kPa. For fracturing the shale you need to use ~80% of this pressure (you get assistance from pore pressure in the formation). You will need higher pressure if there is also tectonic pressure affecting the deposit. At these depths, good quality rounded quartz sand grains for fracture “proppants” can withstand the pressure. Deeper plays require manufactured ceramic “sand”. They are even used in developing reservoirs in the Gulf of Mexico where total depth is 10,000m! in water depths of over 2000m! From a floating drilling platform! No Chinese drilling crews need apply!

    China gave up on their fracking adventure while the US was still optimizing the technology. EOG (a fragment of Enron) holds the largest land-based O&G position in the US and is a major innovator in hydraulic fracturing. Their developments in the process by 2017, has made it viable to re-enter some 50,000 ‘depleted’ fractured wells to produce as much again as they had already produced. Turn the Chinese plays over to EOG and see what happens!

    Well having cut this sour grapes hit article down to size, what about their new technology? Well I’m curious about any new tech and wish then luck. I’m not hopeful though, because you not only have to crack the rock (which at their depths can also be done with high pressure water), but you have to prop the fractures open or they simply close down again! (OMG I hope they know the importance of using high test quartz sand and super strong ceramic sand!) The water serves not only to crack the rock, but to force the sand grains in to prop open the fracture. How are they accomplishing the latter task with an electric zap technology?

    • Yes, there are numerous errors and misleading statements in the headline article. I also share the skepticism about the ability to effectively stimulate with an explosive including the challenge to prop the fractures as discussed by Gary P., but I hope they have a safe and successful experiment.

      The down hole nuclear explosions denoted to stimulate gas-bearing strata in the western USA decades ago were failures. Those experiments created glass-lined cavities and localized radioactive gas.

  21. It’s been done already. I remember reading about it in Popular Science back in high school.
    https://aoghs.org/technology/project-gasbuggy/

    “December 10, 1967, a nuclear bomb exploded less than 60 miles from Farmington,” explains historian Wade Nelson in an article written three decades later, “Nuclear explosion shook Farmington.”

    The 4,042-foot-deep detonation created a molten glass-lined cavern about 160 feet in diameter and 333 feet tall. It collapsed within seconds.

    Subsequent measurements indicated fractures extended more than 200 feet in all directions – and significantly increased natural gas production.”

  22. Not sure where you’re getting your “little boy detonator” bullshit but you’re dead wrong.

    Little boy was two subcritical masses and a goddamned field cannon.

  23. Re-read the article, it’s even stupid about ground pressure and crushing forces.

    There are no “crushing forces” on well drill heads because they’re at ambient pressure or higher due to also being at the depth they’re drilling with the added push of the slurry system.

  24. So They are using a steam engine to frack rocks and clay.
    I wonder does the unit come up the bore hole like a bullet.
    They still have to get it down there.
    Would not like to be there when they try it out.
    Most Volcanoes are steam driven.

    • twobob,
      Why did you feel compelled to write this and so display your ignorance?
      There is a large, important industry full of engineers and scientists who have developed the concepts you seem ignorant about. We can assume that the nation will continue to make progress without the need to pay attention to your comment. So, why did you write it? Geoff.

  25. Using the reported 100 Mega Pascals versus lithostatic pressure gradient I get a depth of about ~4,300 meters. Now some of that is the pressure needed to actually break open the rock (presumably shale) so a depth of 3,500 meters is reasonable. Different formations of rock will require different pressures to significantly crack them open, therefore I find the 100 Mega Pascals to be within a reasonable limit, especially if the formations are very tight ones.

    U.S. fracking generally is in the range of 40 to 70 Mega Pascals, but over 100 Mega Pascals has been achieved. This question for China is would the equipment needed to achieve these high pressures be economical to use in these particular production fields. So while the technology is likely available, the cost may be prohibitive.

    These “new method” of fracturing the rock only works to out to 50 meters according to the report, and then repeating the process will result in an expanded area, but assuming the force of the effect is diminishing as the 1 over the square of the distance, the next firing would only expand the area by another 10 meters or so (very roughly). Using horizontal drilling one can drill 1,000 meters or more if the strata allows for it. So the new fracking process would require some 100 times more drill wells to achieve a similar result. I must be missing something here, this would not be economically feasible – but I guess could be used under war-time conditions.

    Interesting, but I don’t see how this replaces fracking.

    Oh, and the U.S. test use of a nuclear device was successful…as long as you don’t mind the natural gas released being radioactive! (or at least containing radioactive elements within it)

    • Hi Robert, typically the fracking pressure
      needed is only 80% of the lithostatic pressure at the target depth. There is an “assist” from the pore pressure in the formation. On some locations there can be tectonic pressure (stress) that would need increased fracking pressure to overcome.

      • Also, horizontal drilling of 10,000ft (3000m) has been achieved. The bit has a hydraulic motor, turned by the outflow of drilling mud slurry so there is no twisting of the drill stem required.

  26. Stunningly ignorant article from a technical perspective regarding hydraulic fracturing.
    To say 11,500 foot vertical depth is beyond current capabilities is to ignore the multiple 13,000 foot plus Deep Utica wells, the several Tuscaloosa Marine Shale wells which were over 14,000 foot vertical depth and the 16,300 foot deep Eagles Ranch well from EOG in the Louisiana Austin Chalk.
    Other details also simply incorrect in the article.

    • I agree – as I said above, the article is at least useless from a technical perspective, if not completely wrong…

    • Joe, Chevron has a 29,000ft well in the Gulf of Mexico located in ~6300ft of water and drilled from a floating platform! I’m sure the Chinese aren’t reporting on this feat of technology.

  27. Anthony

    Re your addition about clickbait. There are lots of things used in some nuclear bombs that have other uses; but one does not say “nuclear bomb nuts and bolts” because many bombs contain nuts and bolts. The fact that many nuclear bombs used a detonator of this type does not justify the “nuclear bomb” reference in the title.

    • That would be a fair criticism for a general part like nuts and bolts.

      But in this case, there’s a unique part, designed specifically for nuclear detonation, the “explosive bridgewire detonator” used.

      If there were as many common uses for “explosive bridgewire detonators” as nuts and bolts, and they were found in many other things, you’d have a point about it not being necessary to use “nuclear” in the title.

      The title stays.

  28. …fracking (if you will) in an earthquake prone zone.

    Two thoughts come to mind:
    1. Earthquakes release many orders of magnitude more energy than nuclear explosions… at least the big/destructive ones do.
    2. Earthquake prone zones are regions where stress accumulates from tectonic or volcanic activity deep down. Sooner or later something triggers the release… quite possibly shock waves from fracking, or something else.

    Sooner or later that accumulated energy will release… fracking or no fracking. Equally possible is that fracking might trigger mini releases lowering the stress level and reducing the likelyhood and severity of earthquakes.
    Fracking could even lead to a mechanism for pre-empting catastrophic earhquakes…Who knows?
    Cheers
    Mike

  29. I knew from context what type of detonator they meant, even if they got the bomb (Hiroshima v. Nagasaki) wrong.

  30. “Zhang’s torpedo-shaped device uses a powerful electric current to generate concentrated, precisely controlled shock waves to achieve the same result.”

    That’s not the technology used to detonate Little Boy (gun type).

    It might have been used in Fat Man (implosion type) – but that bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, not Hiroshima.

  31. If China is leading the world in moving to renewables, and renewables are cheaper and more efficient than gas, why do they need to undertake ‘extreme fracking’?

  32. May have been said already, but the Hiroshima bomb was a gun type. This would not have had any special firing requirements, just a normal gun primer. It was desperately inefficient however, and that is why no modern weapon works that way.

    The Nagasaki weapon (and all modern ones) use an implosion arrangement which requires a number of detonators to fire with precise timing. The reason for the exploding bridgewire (or foil slapper, as is now used) is to give a short and predictable firing delay, ordinary detonators having too much variance in their firing delay. It also has a safety advantage in that it can fire an insensitive primer directly, avoiding the need for sensitive primers which could cause accidental firing, for example if the weapon is dropped in handling.

  33. Much of roaming fee for a handful of ever repated arguments.

    Like Shakespeare’s play ‘much ado about nothing.’

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