Petroleum reservoir fracturing is set for a major improvement with new technologies going to work miles down from the surface and then out horizontally. Called fracking, the process uses pressure to break into oil and natural gas rocks and prop channels for the petroleum products to flow back out. Thus huge new supplies of oil and gas are coming to market.
It’s no surprise that the technology is already international, starting in the U.S. its already going to work in Canada, Argentina, Russia, Mexico, Poland, the Middle East and more.
The leaders of the new boom that can be expected over time to be used in millions of wells worldwide are the major petroleum service companies, Halliburton, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes.
The “super fracking” as its becoming named is based on three basic improvements. The first is Schlumberger’s “HIWAY” idea that is an innovation in the material forced into the rock. (The linked page has a good animation to explain the process in detail.) The new idea is to add fibers to the mix of hard small grains used to hold open the cracks. The fiber is being seen as a major production improver. Much more flow for a longer period is the result. That flow, called conductivity, has been the problem of wildcatters for 150 years. The petroleum is there, but it won’t come out. How much more the fiber offers has investors in oil reserves pouring over 100+ years of history.
The second idea called “RapidFrac” comes from Halliburton with a set of highly developed specialized pipe fittings that go into a newly drill hole. (This page also has a high quality animated video, though quite a large file.) Much like valves, these sections of the pipe when activated open passages to the rock. With two types, a set of one type in a row can be used to work a section to specifications learned from the drilling results and geophysics. The second type then is an isolator to keep the work specific to the set before moving on to the next set. It’s a very sophisticated means to crack a vast volume of petroleum reserve rock.
Halliburton’s new technology also has a second benefit, the accurate and limited groups require about half the water and much less time. Where time is money this level of conservation and efficiency really adds up. It also should cut back on the fears – stuffing half as much water down is going to reduce the amount of risk – and the targeted zones will be much easier to study. For the local folks it means half the traffic per job, too.
The fracking business is made up of the two huge companies and a veritable army of others making well completion a very competitive business.
The pipe placed down a well is getting more sophisticated, and the valve idea isn’t unique to Halliburton. The current technology is sending balls down the pipe that stop where the diameter is too small. Of late the balls dropped in are made of plastic that can be drilled out when the frack pressure work is done. The third idea is Baker Hughes has developed disintegrating frack balls (No company info yet.). This solves the need to have a drilling rig return to the well, and spend several days drilling and fishing out the perhaps a many as 20 or even 30 balls dropped in to do the frack in stages.
The controlled “explosive” (its more of a really fast burn) blast technology to get through the pipe and into the rock isn’t laying about – here Baker Hughes has a fourth idea, developing and testing “super cracks,” a method of blasting deeper into dense rock to create wider channels in order to funnel more oil and gas. The aim for the technology, branded “DirectConnect,”(pdf file link) is to concentrate fracking power to target oil or gas buried deeper in the formation.
Perhaps the best news is the new technologies are reducing costs in a big way. Investor stock trackers have noticed and estimates like the one from JPMorgan Chase projects drops from $2.5 million per well down to an astonishing $750,000 – a drop of 70% – money that will get reinvested in more drilling and production.
Many are surprised at the massive gains in the U.S. production of petroleum, with finished products making the U.S. a net exporter again. The innovation, daring, risk assumption, testing and prices for oil have gotten the door open and the oil bidness has pressed right on through with American ingenuity and character. The new technologies will soon be major U.S. exports – cutting back on the world’s marginal last barrel risk and suppressing prices back to reason.
A year of high prices and past years of wild swings in oil prices may seem a trauma, but the industries’ reaction to the trauma has made the supply much more secure for a longer time.