Unconventional Resources
Development and Field Testing Novel Natural Gas Surface Process Equipment for Replacement of Water as Primary Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Last Reviewed June 2017

DE-FE0024314

Goal
The goal of this project is to develop and field test the use of readily available natural gas collected at the wellhead as a primary fracturing fluid. The work proposes to develop, validate, and demonstrate affordable non-water-based and non CO2-based stimulation technologies, which can be used instead of, or in tandem with, water-based hydraulic fracturing fluids to reduce water usage and the volume of flowback fluids. The process will use natural gas at wellhead supply conditions and produce a fluid at conditions needed for injection.

Performers
Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio, TX 78238
Schlumberger Technology Corporation (SLB), Sugar Land, TX 77478

Background
Fracturing fluids are composed of approximately 90 percent water. One of the principal drawbacks to hydraulic fracturing is its excessive water use. Each application of hydraulic fracturing consumes between three and seven million gallons of water. During the fracturing process, some of the fracturing fluid is permanently lost and the portion that is recovered is contaminated by both fracturing chemicals and dissolved solids from the formation. The recovered water, or flowback, represents a significant environmental challenge because it must be treated before it can be reintroduced into the natural water system. Although there is some recycling of flowback fluids for future fracturing, the majority of the flowback water is hauled from the well site to a treatment facility or to an injection well for permanent underground disposal.

To mitigate these issues, an optimized, lightweight, and modular surface process involving natural gas liquefaction, compression, and injection will be developed and field tested to replace water as a cost-effective and environmentally-clean fracturing fluid. Using natural gas produced from the well for hydraulic fracture stimulation will result in a near zero consumption of water. The gas, in a liquefied state, is injected as a fracturing fluid; it will mix with newly-released formation gas and both will be extracted to the surface. This eliminates the collection, waste, and treatment of large amounts of water, and reduces the environmental impact of transporting and storing the fracturing fluid.

Impact
The primary benefit of this program is the ability to utilize natural gas as the primary fracturing fluid, thus, reducing water use. Traditional fracturing operations throughout the U.S. use a substantial amount of water, much of which is lost permanently or is difficult and expensive to decontaminate. In this research, natural gas will be readily obtained from the wellhead (produced gas) that is typically located near the well site. This technology will eliminate the environmental impact associated with transporting fracturing fluids to and from the well site. The process does not depend of large amounts of water, which will eliminate the flowback water disposal problem associated with traditional hydraulic fracturing. Once the well begins producing natural gas, the natural gas that was used as the primary fracturing fluid can be introduced back into the pipeline.

There are many significant benefits to the process, some of which are:

  • Reduction of waste product
  • Less separation of water and gas required
  • Decrease in the formation of emulsion, which will result in fewer blockages in the formation, and thus, improved gas flow
  • Less clay swelling, which will result in better well production
  • Onsite pressurized natural gas can be used for running field equipment
  • Significant reduction in water transport, resulting in less vehicular traffic, emissions, and road wear

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)

  • Data generated from the budget period 2 laboratory tests have been analyzed and initial foam rheology data has been reported.
  • The budget period 2 laboratory tests were completed.
  • The budget period 2 test stand was constructed and sub-systems were commissioned.
  • Equipment for the budget period 2 laboratory test was ordered and received.
  • The test matrix for the budget period 2 testing was finalized.  
  • A conceptual design for the laboratory testing for budget period 2 was completed.
  • The test objectives for budget periods 2 and 3 were refined. This was contingent upon the top cycle selected and the results of the work in the current year.
  • A literature review was performed on natural gas rheology to identify what work had been done and any technology gaps.
  • The top cycle (direct compression system) was selected using the defined metric system.
  • The metric scoring system was expanded to consider cost, maintenance, operation expenses, and mobility.
  • Detailed analyses were performed on the top three cycles. This included updating the thermodynamic models to include the commercial equipment design values, constructing site layouts plans for each cycle to understand how the equipment would be arranged and transported to the well site, and estimating the cost to construct each of the three cycles.
  • Commercial equipment was identified for the major components in each of the top three cycles.
  • An initial selection of the top three concepts was completed.
  • A comprehensive metric and scoring system was developed to rank the concepts for selection of the top two or three concepts.
  • Commercially available equipment was surveyed to determine if the cycle design was realistic.
  • The thermodynamic cycle for each concept was modeled to determine the minimum power usage and the type of equipment necessary for the cycle.
  • Several cycle concepts for processing low pressure natural gas to a high pressure natural gas for fracturing were developed.

Current Status (June 2017)
Work in budget period 3 has begun and will focus on additional laboratory testing to better characterize rheological properties of natural gas-based foam. The testing efforts will expand on the current level of understanding and also include foams with different aqueous phase chemistries. Current efforts are focused on identifying the test parameters to be explored during the budget period 3 tests. The test parameters will be used to generate a comprehensive test matrix.

Project Start: October 1, 2014
Project End: December 31, 2017

DOE Contribution: $1,312,000
Performer Contribution: $328,000

Contact Information:
NETL – Joseph B. Renk III (joseph.renk@netl.doe.gov or 412-386-6406)
SwRI – Griffin Beck (griffin.beck@swri.org or 210-522-2509)

Additional Information:

Quarterly Research Performance Progress Report [PDF] July - September, 2017

Development and Field Testing Novel Natural Gas Surface Process Equipment for Replacement of Water as Primary Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid (Aug 2017)
Presented by Griffin Beck, Southwest Research Institute, 2017 Carbon Storage and Oil and Natural Gas Technologies Review Meeting, Pittsburgh, PA

Quarterly Research Performance Progress Report [PDF] January - April, 2017

Quarterly Research Performance Progress Report [PDF] October - December, 2016

Development and Field Testing Novel Natural Gas Surface Process Equipment for Replacement of Water as Primary Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid (Aug 2016)
Presented by Griffin Beck and Sandeep Verma, Southwest Research Institute, 2016 Carbon Storage and Oil and Natural Gas Technologies Review Meeting, Pittsburgh, PA

Quarterly Research Performance Progress Report [PDF] July - September, 2016

Quarterly Research Performance Progress Report [PDF] January - March, 2016

Quarterly Research Performance Progress Report [PDF] July - September, 2015

Quarterly Research Performance Progress Report [PDF] April - June, 2015

Quarterly Research Performance Progress Report [PDF] January - March, 2015

Quarterly Research Performance Progress Report [PDF] October - December, 2014