Inherent in its name, hydraulic fracking uses large amounts of water along with some chemicals to crack open or "frack" shale formations in order to get at oil and gas locked within. The technology has revolutionized oil and gas drilling technology.
Problem in Texas: a water shortage
Hydraulic fracking, which is currently opening up untold oil and gas resources in Texas, has run into a potential problem because of the long-term drought that has afflicted the Lone Star State in recent years. As early as 2011, according to an article published by First Enercast Financial, oil and gas drillers started to recognize that they might have a problem because of a shortage of water. The problem is exacerbated because the unique geology of the Eagle Ford formation, where Texas gets much of its shale oil and gas, requires more water to frack open the product. Oil and gas companies have been attempting to alleviate the problem by recycling fracking fluid.
The Texas Tribune reports that a new technology, dubbed "waterless fracking," may address the problem of water use in fracking operations. A Canadian company called GasFrac is using a combination of gelled propane and butane to conduct fracking, without the use of water. The technology is new and may cost more than conventional hydraulic fracking. But waterless fracking will have its attractions if the water shortage in Texas persists. While the process requires a lot of propane and is said to be less effective than water in deep formations, propane is readily available in south Texas and also has the advantage that it is less likely to damage shale formations than water. In addition to propane, some companies are experimenting with carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
Environmental effects of waterless fracking
An article in Scientific American discusses environmental issues involving waterless fracking. Waterless fracking produces less wastewater, which is a positive environmental advantage over conventional fracking. However since water is used to produce and liquefy propane, the overall water savings for the process are unclear. Propane, being an explosive chemical, does pose some safety issues, though GasFrac claims that it has multiple safety protocols. GasFrac also uses proprietary chemicals to make propane into a gel, which will likely anger environmentalists who are already concerned about ground water contamination alleged to happen during conventional fracking. The bottom line, however, is that waterless fracking using propane will likely be useful in areas like Texas where there are water shortages, but elsewhere conventional hydraulic fracking will still be more cost-effective.
Texas resident Mark Whittington writes about state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
- Nature & Environment