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Enforcing environmental standards in the oil industry

12th November 2012

Governments and the media have yet to have made their mind up on fracking; the environmental impacts have yet to be attested, many claim

Enforcing environmental standards in the oil industry
Advanced geophysical predictive techniques avoid tectonic fractures and faults for more efficient hydraulic fracturing.

FracRock CEO: "Environmental sensitivity is not just responsible corporate management; it's an excellent business strategy."

For many, the only knowledge of hydraulic fracturing for the stimulation of oil and gas wells has been acquired from a documentary which features homeowners igniting tap water as it flows from their kitchen faucets. The documentary's message is that flaming tap water is but one of many horrific effects of hydraulic fracturing.

Similarly, frightening tales of toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing that migrate into freshwater aquifers to poison drinking water have also raised anxiety levels about the process.

But as any petroleum engineer will attest, incidents of flammable tap water are not the result of hydraulic fracturing, but are more likely due to older drilling and completion practices, and poorly designed and executed wellbore construction. Unfortunately, the reassurances of highly educated experts have little impact when competing with sensationalised media output.  Likewise, explanations that hydraulic fracturing fluids are injected deep in the earth, separated by thousands of meters of rock from freshwater aquifers, are usually lost to hysteria and misinformation.

The threat from chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process has been as overblown as the infamous flaming tap water. Additives are a very small percentage of the frac fluid, and most of the components are found in ordinary household products such as soaps, sand, anti-bacterial agents and guar, which is a food-grade product used in ice cream and food sauces. 

In the US, the hydraulic fracturing industry has experienced significant push-back from a well-meaning but poorly informed public. Negative publicity led the state of New York to  impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing that virtually shut-down the natural gas drilling industry in that state.

It is in this hostile business environment that FracRock International has launched a new well-stimulation services company specialising in unconventional formations.

FracRock President and CEO Chris Boswell explains: "The management team of FracRock International recognises the importance of differentiation and has worked extremely hard to secure key technologies through strategic partnerships that will allow the Company’s service offering to compete in this complex market.  At the Company’s core is a belief that significant efficiency gains will be made in this industry through the use of advanced technology focused on minimizing the overall environmental footprint."

To achieve this differentiation, FracRock has branded an eco-friendly technique around its well-stimulation and completion services, utilizing what it terms "EcoFrac Solutions." 

EcoFracSM Solutions include proprietary geophysical predictive techniques, specialised down-hole tools and advanced wellbore monitoring which will ultimately allow for an intelligent reduction in the number of frac stages executed in each well without sacrificing production. Well stimulation through the use of specialized downhole tools also allows for a reduction in the number of diesel pumping units -- up to 50 per cent less hydraulic horsepower -- and a substantial reduction in the amount of water used in the process. Fewer pumping units have a much smaller effect on local air quality and on local roads and bridges. Further, in some communities where water is scarce, the EcoFrac Solutions offer a process which conserves water as compared with almost any other hydraulic fracturing operation.

FracRock is also developing techniques -- in conjunction with its technology partners -- which will substantially reduce the amount of water used in its well-stimulation process by cleaning and recycling flowback water. New methods for treating water after it has been pumped back out from wells (which can be contaminated with salts, metals, etc.) are becoming more and more efficient.

"The commitment to environmental safety is our highest priority," says FracRock's Vice President of Technology, Allen Gabrysch. “The chemicals we utilize in the fracturing process are designed to enhance wellbore productivity while promoting personnel safety and protection of the environment.  Our mission is to provide products, specialized chemistry and services necessary to drill and complete an array of unconventional reservoirs around the world. Through our EcoFrac Solutions, we will actively pursue and identify more environmentally friendly options to further enhance the portfolio of our services.”

As Boswell points out, "Advanced new well-stimulation techniques reduce the environmental footprint of our operations, meaning more efficient operations -- and greater efficiency means reduced costs and a competitive edge. Environmental sensitivity is not just responsible corporate management; it's an excellent business strategy."

Hydraulic fracturing has increased clean-burning natural gas production to the point where it is becoming an economical alternative to coal -- which produces far higher rates of CO2 emissions and other pollutants.

Boswell adds, "The new economy of natural gas production could gradually reduce  coal from the global energy equation, which would have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions and ultimately on long-term climate trends."

This article was written for OGT by FracRock

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