Fracking with propane? Seriously? This keeps surfacing [sorry] so I guess it’s time to address it.
Propane substitutes for water in shale fracking
* Canadian firm shoots propane gel into wells
* Process saves water, risks fire
* An engineer gets the willies: “It doesn’t burn nicely”
By Anna Driver
GasFrac Energy Services Inc is winning customers, including Chevron Corp , by using a flammable propane gel instead of the water, chemicals and sand typically blasted into rock or tight sand formations to release trapped oil and gas.
Remember where fracking the shale came from. You’ll never guess where GasFrac started this propane frack lunacy–
Texas, my Texas, in Oh Canada and now they are using it in the Eagle Ford Shale. I think we could expand on the Molly Ivans quote about electing presidents from Texas and include that you shouldn’t adopt drilling practices from Texas either.
Here’s what one engineer thinks about fracking with propane:
“As a former frack engineer, I get the willies when I think about getting anywhere near a frack that is flammable,” he said. “When it catches fire, it doesn’t burn nicely.”
~Richard Spears, a leading oilfield services adviser to the petroleum industry and a former Halliburton Co engineer
Here’s what another engineer thinks about fracking with propane:
Fracing with liquified propane, or butane (LPG):
- still needs large quantities of additional, but different chemicals to add to the LPG;
- needs HD compressor on each site to recondense returned propane/butane for reuse, and additional processing on each site for reuse;
- frac process is now nearly “robotic” because of risks to personnel on the pad;
- have been two explosions/fires in past year, one quite serious with hospitalizations;
- many truckloads of LPG needed for each frac job-these trucks are transporting hazardous material, not water;
- LPG not available in large enough volumes to make this “THE” method in any play with tens of thousands of wells projected;
- the biggies, Schlumberger, Hallliburton, et al. will not like encroachment on their turf..they have billions invested in equipment and personnel training for water based fracing, but they currently say they are “interested” in this new line of research: you make the call
- the ONLY substantive information about the process comes from the company – in effect advertising claims. There has been no independent empirical analysis of the complete life cycle of LPG fracs.
- still transports some materials from downhole just like slick water does and will be subject to the same constraints:
1) communication back to surface via faults and old open wells
2) communication/migration of methane and other downhole crap via casing sealing failures and leaks (cf the Pavilion/EPA study (11-10-11 released) and the “Duke” methane migration study), and
3) surface spills of frac related materials that comes back up
4) the added danger of propane, a heavier than air gas leaking and pooling in low spots near the well pad in large amounts and causing an explosion hazard
Bottom line: no science available to evaluate either env impact of LP frac or the safety thereof. Grasping at straws for a solution to a problem the industry claims does not exist.
A. R. Ingraffea, Ph.D., P.E.
Can we use the term desperate yet?
UPDATE: Apparently this post is on the GASFRAC Energy Services, Inc, Yahoo Financial Page. The link goes to a message board where they call me Sharonick =) and use faulty logic in arguments.
UPDATE 2: More information on propane fracking HERE, where they call it emerging technology and say it is still in its “infancy.”
A search of public research reports on file with the Society of Petroleum Engineers found only two case studies for wells that used propane fracking — one in 2011 and one in 2009.
Propane fracks are currently more expensive than traditional fracking and there is an increased risk from explosion.
“As far as we’re aware, the technology has so far not proved cost-effective for gas wells,” she said. “The technology works best when sufficient infrastructure is in place to allow the propane to be captured and re-used.”
So, in addition to all the infrastructure required to produce, transport and process the gas, now we will have additional infrastructure, all explosive, to transport the propane for fracking. What’s not to love?
About Sharon Wilson
Sharon Wilson is considered a leading citizen expert on the impacts of shale oil and gas extraction. She is the go-to person whether it’s top EPA officials from D.C., national and international news networks, or residents facing the shock of eminent domain and the devastating environmental effects of natural gas development in their backyards.
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Westchester Neighbor says
As God is my witness, I swear I am not making this up. A Republican state representative was very excited to tell me recently that “they” had come up with a new way to frack…that it would be done with a round metal object. No chemicals. No water. Just this round metal object. I said to him, “Well, that sounds wonderful.”
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!
sorry to say, each and every point is either false or presented with only partial information
boy, good thing you talked about transporting lpg, i’d hate to have trucks of this stuff rolling around my neighborhood.
oh wait now i see what you’re doing, you forgot about the lpg delivery to homes, travel trailers, trucks on the highway, railroad cars. by god we need to get these away from the children, wont someone please think of the children
Okay, please lay it on me. Please rebut point by point then.
Okay, you too. Lay it on me. Let’s hear your argument.
The whole point is that most of the country is in a drought. If homeowners have water restrictions then so should they.
Roger Yoders says
Nothing seems to satisfy this guy, he know so little about the industry and claims to be an expert.
It could be that this so called fracking using LPG is just a way dispose of not very good quality of the “gas”. A lot of this fracking uses various waste products from various industrial activities.
Gary Hogan says
The Industry also uses Liquid Nitrogen Fracking also. Not as explosive but just as concern. By the way no one asked if the Parker County wells where Methane showing LN alibied Ranger Resources out of responsibility for contamination ( LN is typical of Strawn but not Barnett formation ) if liquid nitrogen was used to frac those Barnett wells ?
Are You Kidding? says
You want a point by point response? Okay, let’s start at the top. Fracking with liquid propane did not start in Texas. It began in Canada. GasFrac has completed about 1000 wells in Alberta. Even in the United States, fracking with liquid propane did not start in Texas. The first wells to use this process were in hte Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania a few years ago. The process only reached Texas within the last year. So, the first two paragraphs of you article are totally wrong.
Most of the rest of your post is supposedly what one engineer thinks about fracking with LPG. You write about it as if there is something insightful or important in what he thinks, but there is not. Your expert does not even understand the technology. Here’s the proof: you make the usual charges about how the fracking brings “crap” back to the surface when the fracking material is retrieved. (I used your expert’s scientific term of “crap” so you would not be confused.) Apparently, your so-called expert does not understand that the liquid propane gasifies in the ground before it comes back to the surface. Just so I am sure you actually understand this point, it is propane gas that comes back out of the well after the fracking, not a liquid. Gases do not dissolve “crap” and bring that stuff with them to the surface. That’s right, your expert is totally wrong.
As for your point that equipment is needed at the site. So? That’s like saying that a car is needed to drive from Dallas to Houston. Of course equipment is needed. There is no problem with this.
You also make a big point of the danger of fracking with lpg. I assume that even your expert engineer did not say this. All drilling for oil or gas is dangerous. Of course, so is driving on the interstate. Are you in favor of banning driving? More people are injured each year driving than drilling — and I am not talking just about absolute numbers but also about the likelihood of death based upon the frequency in which the activity occurs.
Oh, I do not want to forget that terrible danger of transporting the lpg that you or your expert pronounces. (you were not clear if it was your fear or his.) Do you have any idea how many trucks right now are transporting highly flammable and explosive materials. Think about it next time you pass a gasoline tanker truck on the interstate. LPG is no more or less dangerous than these other materials. You are just spouting nonsense. (ok maybe it is your expert who is spouting nonsense.)
There is more to say, but I think you get the point: the “crap” is not what comes to the surface in a well completed with lpg. The “crap” is nearly everything that you have written in this piece.
Okay, I’ll give you this one:
Fracking with liquid propane did not start in Texas.
I misread the article when it said fracking with propane began in Texas this summer. But fracking did start in Texas in the very area where I used to live. So, that would mean the paragraphs you referenced are only partially wrong.
I will ask the engineer about the crap that comes back up but–HEAR THIS–it is NO comfort if it stays in the ground. People who live in the gas patches all over the United States are tired of the CRAP in the ground, in our water, in our air and on our land! Get it? I get hundreds of emails everyday from some of the most conservative areas of the US and confirm this.
Equipment: I read another article about propane fracks and it is not economically viable unless there is additional infrastructure in place. Okay, so let’s count the infrastructure needed to bring us this
clean energydirty finite fossil fuel. We need all the CRAP that it takes to drill, the well head, the tanks, the onsite dehydrators, compressors, flares, abandoned waste pits and impoundments and etc. Then we need the pipelines that go across our land and through our very yards. Then we need the processing plants that they are putting in are backyards–the ones that stink to high heavens and make us sick. Metering stations, landfarms… and so forth. Now we are supposed to get all excited about building the infrastructure to put this CRAP in our vehicles which means way more infrastructure. And even more infrastructure will be required to do the propane fracks. Ah, NO THANKS! Your car analogy is really dumb. Car ≠ permanent, highly explosive equipment that is too close to our homes, schools, hospitals and…
All drilling for oil or gas is dangerous. Good point. As far as I know, solar panels have never killed anyone or given them cancer (see physician statement in latest post) and I’m pretty sure they don’t blow up, ever. Your car analogies don’t work.
Do you have any idea how many trucks right now are transporting highly flammable and explosive materials. Yes, I do. So, we really don’t need any more. Do we?
So, like I said, please provide links to the studies that prove propane fracking is safe.
Are You Kidding? says
You really do not seem to even understand what you are writing. You say that it is “no comfort” if the “crap” stays in the ground. Even you cannot mean this. The so called “crap” is already in the ground and has been there for eons. It consists of compounds that form a part of that layer of the earth where the shale gas or shale oil is located. One of the big supposed complaints about water based fracking is that the water dissolves these materials and brings them to the surface. Do you understand this? That’s right, the water supposedly brings bad things to the surface, something that the propane does not do, not even to the slightest extent. But you say that having the compounds in the earth a mile or two below the surface is still a problem. Well it that is your view, this will be a problem whether or not anyone drills or fracks in the area.
Then you say that propane based fracking is not viable economically absent all sorts of additional infrastructure, and you base this on an unnamed article that you read. I have to say that your source is questionable at best. In the past three years well over 1000 wells were completed with LPG fracking. And guess what? Essentially none of these wells had that infrastructure about which you speak. To any rational person, that would say that the LPG fracking is economically viable. I will let you decide for yourself, however. (If you need help figuring this out, just let me know).
Okay, let me type this out slowly so maybe you can keep up.
A. R. Ingraffea, Ph.D., P.E. (not some anonymous commenter) said: still needs large quantities of additional, but different chemicals to add to the LPG;
Then YOU said: Your expert does not even understand the technology. Here’s the proof: you make the usual charges about how the fracking brings “crap” back to the surface when the fracking material is retrieved. (I used your expert’s scientific term of “crap” so you would not be confused.) Apparently, your so-called expert does not understand that the liquid propane gasifies in the ground before it comes back to the surface. Just so I am sure you actually understand this point, it is propane gas that comes back out of the well after the fracking, not a liquid. Gases do not dissolve “crap” and bring that stuff with them to the surface. That’s right, your expert is totally wrong.
Then I said: I will ask the engineer about the crap that comes back up but–HEAR THIS–it is NO comfort if it stays in the ground. People who live in the gas patches all over the United States are tired of the CRAP in the ground, in our water, in our air and on our land! Get it? I get hundreds of emails everyday from some of the most conservative areas of the US and confirm this.
Are you with me here? Do you understand that people who live in the Gas Patches all over America are SICK of and from the CRAP you guys add to do your fracking. And, since you add “additional but different CHEMICALS” and you admitted that CRAP stays in the ground (a claim also made by water frackers), it is NOT comforting especially considering that, oh so many times, that CRAP ends up in our water, air and soil no matter that they tell us it stays in the ground. Are you with me here? Do you understand how it is that people who gather together to protest even in the worst weather might not be happy about the additional CRAP or the PROPANE? Suddenly our air is filled with mysterious toxic compounds that ARE NOT naturally occurring and ARE NOT part of the gas stream and no one in industry seems to have a clue how they got there.
The link to the economics is posted above but I’m betting you didn’t even bother reading it. You might want to go read it before you post any more comments here because that came from industry and known industry shills who say propane fracking is not economically viable for wide usage and without infrastructure it can’t be delivered to the frack sites in the needed quantities. And get this: 1000 fracks on 400 wells is not really impressive at all considering there are over 250,000 wells in Texas alone. And alternate title could be: Propane fracking not ready for prime time.
Oh, AND: Could you go ahead and provide those links to the science showing that fracking with propane is safe?
In response to;
“As far as I know, solar panels have never killed anyone or given them cancer (see physician statement in latest post) and I’m pretty sure they don’t blow up, ever. ”
Your agenda is revealed, and emotional argument flawed on so many levels.
Many of the solar panels we install in the US are made in China. We will never know how many people there have been poisoned and died in the process from mining through manufacture.
There is a lot of info out there to be read before making uninformed statements regarding the safety and environmental friendliness of solar….
Ever hear of these nastys?
cadmium telluride and
various highly corrosive acids.
The end product may look nice but we cannot ignore the dangerous toxins in the manufacturing process.
There is a price to pay for all forms of energy but comparatively speaking the environmental costs for solar don’t even come close to fracking shale gas.
And, if you think people are sore about fracking, just wait until you try to fracking with propane 600 ft from their homes. I’m stocking up on popcorn for that one. =)
In response to;
“There is a price to pay for all forms of energy but comparatively speaking the environmental costs for solar don’t even come close to fracking shale gas.
And, if you think people are sore about fracking, just wait until you try to fracking with propane 600 ft from their homes. I’m stocking up on popcorn for that one. =)”
Propane gas fracking environmental costs cannot be linked to or considered in any way the same as water-based fracks.
They are highly dissimilar operations due to the vehicle used.
Please provide a link to scientific evidence comparing environmental costs of gas fracking compared to solar cell production rather than alarmist, speculative and personal opinion.
Also, please provide some links to gas frack corporate policy regarding separation from residences or facts regarding actual gas fracks that they have been done anywhere close to residences.
Could you also please provide the engineering details regarding the inadequacies of the gasfrac safety systems that would need to be comprimised for you to “cook popcorn from 600 feet”.
Realistically, do you have any idea how many hundreds of millions of people have exposed propane tanks sitting right next to their house or in their grill all over the world? Really dangerous stuff. Houses blowing up every day. Lots of popcorn being made by neighbors.
Chip Northrup says
Much ado about propane in New York But simply put – no one in the Marcellus uses it and no one will unless required to by law. It is more expensive than water and a bit more flammable . . . .
As long as Pa. and NYS allow frackers to pollute freshwater like there was no tomorrow, they will use fresh water and skip the propane.
It’s Texas they want to frack with the propane. Notice how the propane frackers come up empty handed when I ask them for studies so they try to turn that around on me.
I had a small propane tank for a short while when I lived in the country until I decided to just do without. There is a huge difference in a propane tank to supply the home and the amount of propane needed to frack a well. Fort Worth has a 600′ setback and they regularly give variances. Statewide the setback is 200′. I can’t wait to see what happens if they try to do a propane frack in Fort Worth, or maybe Flower Mound.
To John above. Your request for corporate policies relative to any kind of fracking (or policy for anything else) is obviously confidential and propriety to the corporation. You try to get it and publish it–you can bet your bippies that they ain’t gonna give the policy to me–no need for me to ask! There are little or no regulation at the RRC, TCEQ, or EPA that I am aware of–so there are none available to the ordinary citizens.
I agree that propane fracking is a very dangerous operation. Yes propane tanks at residences are dangerous, but that 100+ gallons is nothing compared to the volumes used in propane fracks. There are spacing requirements for the residental tanks and there are some testing requirements to minimize dangers. Also there are pertinent NFPA specs. for plumbing, installation, etc. for residental propane( NGL)installations.
Paul Roden says
Fracking causes pollution of the surface or group water due to spills and accidents. Fracking waste water can not be recycled or cleaned up. Injecting waste fracked water into deep injection wells causes earthquakes. The drill cuttings, sludge contain heavy metals and radioactive elements that need to be keep out of the environment. When gas wells are drilled until they are plugged or connected to pipelines they are flared and waste organic gases burned or stored. Trucks and pumps are run on diesel engines running 24 hrs a day polluting the air as well as the noise. Burning this gas adds to global warming and climate change. No one knows the cost of storing, cleaning up the well pad sites, and monitoring these wells during and after their life ends. We don’t need the gas because we have the technology and science to convert to a renewable energy economy by 2020 without fossil fuel, nuclear energy or biomass fuels. Jacobson and Delucchi in their March 2011 articles in Energy Policy and in their November 2009 article in Scientific American magazine, have laid out the strategy to do this. Fracking is too dangerous, too expensive and unnecessary for our energy needs.
Ken Pandya says
There is lot of discussion about hydraulic fraking, but very little discussion on the TECHNOLOGIES THAT HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR MANY YEARS AND NEW TECHNOLOGIES THAT ARE COMING UP NOW, to TREAT THE FLOWBACK WATER and PRODUCED WATER from these operations. With these technologies, it is possible to A) Eliminate deepwell injection B) Remove all of the scale-causing components (Example: Calcium, Magnasium, Barium, Iron and other metals) which will allow the TRADITIONAL TECHNOLOGIES such as RO membrane Desalination technologies (Billions of gallons per day worth of systems all over the World in operation, right now), Evaporation systems (Ditto, these technologies have been around since 1940’s)- with these technologies, it is possible to TREAT the flowback water and wastewater streams, re-use the treated streams for future fracking operations, even ELIMINATE THE NEED TO HAVE DEEPWELL INJECTION FACILITIES WHICH HAVE BEEN FOUND RESPONSIBLE FOR EARTHQUAKES. Recent studies in treating produced water from Barnett Shale, City of Grand Praire by little known company called AWTS, did just that (www.awtsusa.com). It is about time that such technologies get noticed, and implemented.
I just found this thread, and I hope some of the posters and other interested folks are still watching it, because I have what seems like a very reasonable suggestion…
About 80% of the text posted so far, like most similar threads, seems to be belief-system-based. Posters seem to believe that either deep shale E&D with frac-ing is intrinsically evil and should be banned, or that it’s intrinsically good, and will alone keep us all warm and mobile for the next hundred years. I’ll defend your rights as individuals to hold and post those beliefs in this wonderful free country of ours, but when you seem to believe that all who don’t believe as you do should be somehow forced to make the leap of faith to your belief system and help to legislate (or free the market) to achieve total subscription to your beliefs, you cross the line where I start to want to scream for more reason and evidence and less dogma. Perhaps both sides could maybe post some evidence to support the following (admittedly from my belief system:-):
1. Deep/horizontal drilling and frac-ing do not intrinsically cause environmental damage when performed in accordance with best industry practices.
2. Zero flaring is an example of best industry practice, when considered on a global basis.
3. Likewise for recovery and re-use of frac-ing fluids.
4. Likewise for avoiding deep injection into fragile geologies.
5. Likewise for careful attention to quality, safety, and reliability practices at every step of drilling, completion, and production.
6. etc. etc.
As has been pointed out, there have been literally tens of thousands of wells drilled, and probably a statistically valid few have even followed best practices. When we’re talking about or implying possible catastrophic outcomes, could we possibly reference the demonstrated probabilities of unfavorable outcomes in such cases? Nobody on either side that I’ve seen has ever posted an analysis, or even a good estimate of these statistics. If you want to assert that either there’s unacceptable risk or not, you really should quantify what levels of risk you consider acceptable compared to what the industry can prove that it has done.
Similarly, for the cost issues, there has to some way to add up the budgetary costs of some of the equipment (supported by real experience of purchased equipment, or manufacturers “list” prices, presumably) that one side says is completely prohibitive and the other says is trivial. Example question – What’s the cost of permanent and pre-production temporary equipment for Propane vs Water in the next incremental well in a field? What’s the cost of permanent temporary wellhead equipment to avoid flaring? Better yet, what are the respective gas prices for profitability on a E&D project with and without the disputed technology item?
I’m not asking each post to contain all such detail, but it would really help reasonable and undecided folks if there were a data source for such evidence-based information that all posters could refer to, or quote. I’d even find it beneficial if, in the absence of agreed analysis, both extremes were referenced so we could start to find some middle ground.
RE: Are You Kidding? November 27, 2011 at 9:25 am
“More people are injured each year driving than drilling”
hmmmm, ya got me wondering why the industry is so anal about having contracts with Non-disclosure clauses……
and why when the industry is sued in court they have the case file sealed and not available to the public……
ergo, its time to put up or shut up – I’m tired of your pretzel…….that is MY BELIEF!
RE: Are You Kidding? November 27, 2011 at 9:25 am
and what have you to say about exascerbating radon releases and the lack of capture…..since the vapor from the lpg will provide the means to jetison that toxin into our atmosphere more quickly than gases trapped behind fluids that linger inside of the casing over time…..
or do the radon vapors get trapped within the vaporized pg and sold back into the market or reused and multiply with every frac…….ya know, similar to the build up of H2S when frac water is recycled and reused……
seriously…..we need answers…..since Dr. Tracy Bank says that fracking mobilizes uranium and once it is freed up the trickle up effect becomes a major abNORMal nightmare
fertilizer explosion says
Water is increasingly getting scarce that is why many companies have begun fracking with propane as alternative. They believed that waterless fracking may address the problem of water use. However, water is used to produce propane right? Isn’t it the same and water is not being save? Also, propane is an explosive chemical. What were they thinking?