Some 8,000 feet deep and 450 million years old, the Utica Shale has a lot of petroleum.
Although no one really knows how much there is, oil and gas companies are flocking to eastern Ohio, home to some of the shale’s most amenable portions.
It’s an experimental phase for the technology that makes shale extraction possible, too. Companies that have used horizontal hydraulic fracturing successfully in the Marcellus, Barnett, and other shales are still trying to figure out how to best use it in the Utica.
In Ohio, sixty-five Utica Shale wells have been drilled so far, each requiring 5 to 6 million gallons of water.
But as Utica drillers analyze early results, at least one company thinks water might be unnecessary, and that using a propane-based form of fracking might be more profitable.
That unnamed company has asked GasFrac Energy Services to frack two Utica trial wells in Ohio using LPG, short for liquid petroleum gas. Founded in 2006 and based in Calgary, GasFrac is the world’s only provider of LPG fracking.
LPG uses propane (and occasionally some butane) that’s pressurized to the consistency of a gel. Then, like water-based fracking, it’s injected through pipes at high pressure underground to release oil and gas by cracking open rocks using sand.
LPG naturally mixes with petroleum, so it returns to the surface with the oil or gas being extracted.
Fracking is controversial, because of concerns of potential risks to water supplies. LPG fracking eliminates the toxic “flowback” water that has to be reused, treated and discharged into waterways, or disposed of in deep injection wells, which have been linked to earthquakes in Ohio.
GasFrac argues that LPG is more environmentally sustainable and economically efficient, a claim that has drawn some skepticism.
Petroleum engineers in the 1960s and 1970s tried using propane fracking, but the potential for explosion left the technology uneconomical.
In Ohio, GasFrac’s spokesman said the company hopes to start the Utica wells by the end of the month.
It could be a proving ground for the technology.
While GasFrac has been keen to note in its recent marketing efforts that LPG uses no water, the technology’s profitability will ultimately determine its potential, said Michael Mazar, a financial analyst who follows the company for BMO Capital Markets. “The environmental benefits are secondary.”
Via Midwest Energy News.