| NISKAYUNA, New York, April 7
NISKAYUNA, New York, April 7 Carbon dioxide,
used for years to force crude oil out of old wells, likely will
not replace water in fracking anytime soon because of technical
challenges and limited infrastructure, says General Electric Co
, which is studying the issue under a $10 billion research
The delay means energy companies will continue to use more
than 2 million gallons of water for each fracked well, equal to
baths for some 40,000 people, stressing water supplies in arid
American states and likely delaying fracking's expansion to
western China and other water-stressed regions.
GE, which is making a push into oilfield technology, is
studying how a chilled form of CO2 known as a "super-critical
fluid" - neither a liquid nor a solid - could be used as the new
industry standard for hydraulic fracturing, the process commonly
known as fracking.
The conglomerate is working on the project with Statoil ASA
, the Norwegian oil and gas producer, as part of its
ecomagination program, which also is focusing on gas turbine
efficiency, wind blade design and other energy projects.
"Our ultimate vision is to have a fracking process that uses
no water, but we're a ways off from that," Andrew Gorton, a GE
mechanical engineer leading the project, said during a tour of
the company's research facilities in upstate New York.
The hydraulic fracturing of rock, or fracking, has allowed
the global energy industry to access vast new supplies of oil
and gas. Fracking opponents see a range of potential
environmental damage from the process but are cautiously
optimistic that using CO2 instead of water could reduce those
CO2 fracking was used on a small scale in the 1990s by the
company Canadian FracMaster before it filed for bankruptcy
protection. Engineers say they want to figure out how to widely
replicate the process across many different geologies.
Researchers are also trying to find the best viscosity, or
thickness, for the CO2 at its chilled state to carry proppant, a
type of sand that holds open cracks in rock so oil and natural
gas can escape, much like water does in current methods.
"The hope is we can find a way to do it," said Mark Little,
GE's chief technology officer.
Studies have shown wells fracked with CO2 tend to produce
more oil or natural gas from the outset because CO2 fracks tend
occur at a higher pressure than ones that use water.
Safely and cheaply transporting CO2, a compressible gas, on
trucks to remote wells is also a concern where pipelines lag.
GE is separately studying with the U.S. Department of Energy
how coal-fired power plants could best capture CO2 emissions and
use the gas in fracking and other uses. GE and Statoil currently
get CO2 from industrial gas suppliers such as Linde
and Air Liquide.
Collecting CO2 as a power generation byproduct and using it
to frack would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But fracking
would turn CO2 from a chilled fluid into a gas, and GE says it
needs to devise a way to trap that gas back at the wellhead.
Ideally, a well's owner would be able to re-use CO2 at the
next well it fracks, since nearly all CO2 injected would return
to the surface. By contrast, energy companies cannot re-use most
of the water today used to frack, though some recycling projects
are trying to address that.
For years CO2 has been injected into old, conventional wells
in places like California to boost pressure and increase the
amount of oil that can be pumped out. This process is much less
complex than using CO2 for fracking, as it doesn't require the
CO2 to carry sand or other chemicals.
(Additional reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Terry Wade
and Andrew Hay)