Digital Solid State Propulsion
Digital Solid State Propulsion

Hydraulic vs. Propellant Fracking

Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting
— Mark Twain

Fracking, it’s still crazy out west and in the world’s deserts.  It’s not just that 30,000m3 of water per well. It’s also about the sand and slick water, and maybe less so the chemical additives.  Today, some in the industry can brag about some hydraulic fracturing jobs taking 8,000 pounds of sand per foot, in 9,000-foot-long lateral production zones... That’s whole a bunch of sand to dig up and drive anywhere.   At 0.05% added to the water that needs about 4,000 pounds of chemicals just to move all that sand. If the pumping company runs out of sand when they’re squeezing it down the well in a slick water slurry, the fracture will close up and not contribute to production; ouch.  Another obvious problem is that those cool, expensive specialty chemicals used to free up the sticky oil are largely wasted coating all that sand, not the source rock.  That’s because of the massive surface area created between all those sand grains, rather than rock fissure walls where the hydrocarbons are.  The difference in physical environmental impact between hydraulic methods and propellants is staggering.  Let’s do the truck count.

Hydraulic Fracking:

  • 80     Pumper, and Tool Trucks
  • 880     Water truck loads
    • If not available locally
    • ~5M/gal/well
    • 6,000 gal/truck
    • Pond construction/remediation
  • 20     Chemicals/slick water truck loads
  • 720     Sand truck trips
    • ~30,000 Tons/well- 9,000’ lateral
    • 25 tons/truck
  • 880     Waste Water, 5M/gal/well
    • Or onsite treatment of the contaminated water

So, a TOTAL over 1,000 large truckloads, even without water to hydraulically frack.  However, with the pressure pumping companies in the US having over $100B worth of trucks, and other infrastructure, is there any incentive for them to do it differently?

Now let’s compare fracturing with propellants:

Propellant Dry Fracking:

  • 2     Small Propellant trucks, ~16 drums (55 gal/ea.)
    • 8 drums/truck
    • @ 1 lbs./propellant/ft. of lateral
  • 2     Tool and equipment trucks
  • 1     Propellant loading truck
  • 1     Crew/instrumentation truck
  • 1     Bistro lounge truck (optional)
  • 0     Water trucks
  • 0     Waste Water trucks

Just 6 or 7 truckloads/trips for propellant fracturing, meaning a 120x reduction in road traffic, infrastructure and carbon footprint for the fracture job.  

For desert regions like Argentina, Australia, Algeria, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Nevada, there is just no surface water to waste and only meniscal groundwater that won’t replenish quickly. Whereas, in the eastern United States where there is water readily available, infrastructure in place and high production rates, there’s little reason to change.

Globally, water is the major barrier to developing new shale basins. Alternatively using CO2 to replace the water works, if you can make your own CO2. Why? You can’t buy it, because there isn’t enough manufactured or captured.

Can propellant based fracking replace all hydraulic fracturing everywhere?  No. 

Will propellant based fracking be a major contributor to the successful low-cost development of remote and water starved shale basins?  Yes, for sure.