Fracking Advance That Cuts Water Use May Appease Some Opposition To Controversial Practice

  @David_Kashi on September 30 2013 9:27 AM
  • Fracking
    Pump jacks are seen in the Midway Sunset oilfield in California, April 29, 2013. The nearby vast Monterey shale formation is estimated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration to hold 15 billion barrels of technically recoverable -- mostly by fracking -- oil. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
  • RTX12XPP
    The treatment tanks at the SRE salt water disposal well are seen in Guy, Arkansas, August 6, 2013. A permanent moratorium is in place to prevent the use of the wells after an earthquake in February 2011. More than a dozen homeowners in central Arkansas are suing two oil companies in federal court, claiming the disposal of waste-water from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, triggered a swarm of more than 1,000 minor earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 that damaged their property. Picture taken August 6, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young
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The oil and gas industry in the U.S. may have found a way to appease critics of fracking, a controversial natural gas drilling practice and technology, by reducing the amount of water used in the process. 

In the latest development of the technology, fracking drills would use use propane, butane or pentane, or a mixture of those gases, as a substitute for water, rigzone.com reported last week. The technology could ease criticism over the amount of water used in fracking since the technology uses a great deal of it to extract natural gas from shale, much of which must be chemically treated before it can be disposed of. 

Fracking is a drilling technique that blasts millions of gallons of water and chemicals to break up rock formations deep beneath the earth’s surface and release natural gas. It's been heavily criticized, and some environmentalists contend that fracking contaminates groundwater. In addition, water is increasingly scarce in regions where fracking is common.

For example, Texas lacks an abundant supply of water and sits on Eagle Ford, one of the largest natural gas deposits in the U.S., where fracking is commonplace.

There are other forms of fracking available, but 95 percent of the industry uses water as the common method, according to Mukul Sharma, a professor at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering.

One company, GASFRAC Energy Services, Inc. (TSE:GFS), based in Calgary, Canada, claims that the advantage this latest advance in fracking technology provides is that water is not needed for fracking, and the technology is safer for workers than traditional fracking methods. The process also removes the need to clean the fracking site, the company claims, and it's more environmentally friendly than using water, because water used in fracking returns to the surface and requires transportation off-site for treatment before it can be disposed of.

Higher costs, along with some other drawbacks, are holding back the broad adoption of the new technology.

Still, Gasfrac has signed contracts with several energy companies. One example is a Texas-based energy company Quicksilver Resources, which teamed up with Gasfrac to use the new technology to frack an oil well in Steamboat Springs, Colo. This well was built to show how the new fracking method could reduce the amount of truck traffic needed to transport water to the rigs as well. 

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