Darrell Kosakewich was investigating new ways to settle the tailings ponds created by oilsands mining operations.  As he was investigating it occurred to him that discharging an electrically charged emulsion would settle out and release the entrained water and oil. Then the first time he froze a coal sample and it shattered into a piece, that’s the ‘Eureka!’ moment,  “Well, there’s your fracture mechanism,” he thought.

Kosakewich’s firm Triple D Technologies uses the premise to ‘Frack,’ the process to fracture petroleum bearing rock downhole.  Similar to the freeze-thaw process that creates frost heaves in winter, the patented system freezes formation water deep in the well, causing it to expand and crack the rock, opening up new passageways for hydrocarbons to flow into the wellbore. Kosakewich says, “After all, ice moves mountains, doesn’t it?  It certainly does.

Ice formation has tremendous power, which through its freeze-thaw cycles can destroy roads, bridges and buildings, can also help boost oil and gas production.  The process should also be much less violent; in a water pressure fracture pressure builds until something gives way, which can generate a shock wave, sometimes quite noticeable at the surface of the ground.

Water gains about nine per cent in volume when it turns to ice. Sent down well bore holes and frozen the resulting power exerted on the surrounding rock is three times stronger than the pressures created by today’s fracturing — “fracking” — when well service companies split rock to release oil and gas in tight formations.  Ice acts in all directions, so the freezing also creates radial fracturing – and the magical thing called vertical ‘fracs’, which stay open after the water is removed,” Kosakewich says this removes the need for sand or other materials to prop open the cracks.  It might be the freezing cycles just make  sand from the formation rock as seen in concrete freezing destruction.

Repeating the freeze-thaw cycles over many hours also creates a  “jacking” effect, with the cracks running farther and farther out from the well bore, much like a crack in a car windshield gets longer with each heating and cooling cycle.

Kosakewich believes “This technology is a game-changer, and allows the small and medium-sized firms a chance to compete with the big firms, which are publicly traded and can raise a lot of money.”  A plan to be tried in a mature oilfield in the Pembina reservoir, will be to rework the depleted areas, with the help of PetroJet, a Calgary company that uses revolutionary fluid-cutting technology to auger through installed well casings and create new horizontal bore holes.  “They can go 50 meters out from the existing vertical bore in four directions, and we can frac in all these directions. Even if we can recover only three to five per cent more oil from these fields, that represents an incredible reserve of light, sweet oil from existing fields, and with all the infrastructure in place,” Kosakewich said

Kosakewich contracted with Pace Industrial four years ago to design and test down-hole refrigeration technology. Technicoil, a coil drilling service firm, provides the method of delivering the refrigerant, liquid carbon dioxide down the borehole. “We simply pull out the (pipe) string and install our own, a concentric coil like a car’s power aerial. This all works like your home freezer,” said Kosakewich.

Freeze Frack Wellhead Operations. Click image for more info.

Liquid CO2 still flows under pressure at minus 55 C.  It’s pumped down a small inner pipe. The liquid CO2 flows back to fill the space between the inner pipe and the almost three-inch outer tube. Water is pumped down to fill the space between the outer tube and the eight-inch borehole.  The water is slowly frozen – expanding and cracking the surrounding rock.  The high pressures inside the refrigerant pipe protect it from damage.

Freeze Frack Fracturing Process Diagram. Click image for more info.

Kosakewich said his frac method simply requires a truck of liquid CO2, and coil and pumping equipment compared to the commercial fracking today that typically requires powerful and expensive equipment, and dozens of truckloads of water.

Kosakewich says, “None of this technology is new. But the concept is new, and sure to upset the way business is done in the oilpatch.”  Best of all, its low cost means small firms get a chance to get into well fracturing and there are hundreds of thousands of wells thought to be depleted that may be restored to production with this innovation, just the thing for giant growth across much of the old oil producing areas.  Think jobs, lots of jobs.

It’s one of the grandest innovations this writer has seen.  The properties of freezing that northerners can see every winter developed for fracturing rock offers a very different scenario than high pressure water.  Yet some whiz is going to combine the two – a certainty – from which oil and gas production is certain to increase.  The slow expansion of ice, bearing directly on the rock its in contact with, will yield very different results in opening fissures for petroleum products to flow.  Water is much more dynamic, it will crack into the least resistance, flow and crack into the next least resistance, and so forth until the budget is used up.

Kosakewich’s technology should also take the fear away, the slower process is likely more a crushing event than cracking, reducing the shocks, the shaking, the chance that a fissure would point to the surface and allow much closer operations to where people live and work.
Freeze fracturing won’t work everywhere, some rock won’t cooperate, some reservoirs are going to be to hot and other challenges will bar the way.  Yet the total of old “easy” oil and gas that could be accessed again – is stunning.

Let’s encourage Kosakewich and his people – congratulations are in order, this is a technology begging for many minds to continue the innovations.  Its one more step to 100% reservoir recovery – which could dramatically increase the petroleum reserves available worldwide.  And jobs, good jobs, good paying jobs!


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