by Matthew Huttenlock
July 1, 2016

At a recent Colorado Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) meeting, the topic of discussion was groundwater and regulations surrounding the industry in Colorado. After debunking some industry myths, a representative from the University of Colorado Boulder elaborated on his research regarding which chemicals pose potential risks if they leaked into an aquifer. Further research included studying the life expectancy of these downhole consumables to determine if they would in fact make it to a drinking water well before decomposing to a point that rendered them harmless.

After all of this research, the conclusion, according to the University of Colorado Boulder, was that of the 596 chemicals that could be used in a well completion, only nine had a possibility of being harmful.

This means that less than 2 percent of all potential chemicals used in well completions were shown in this research to have a possibility of contaminating a water well. The rapid technological advancements in the oil and gas industry have encouraged companies to remain focused on being environmentally clean.

The Proof Is in the…Frac Fluid

One of the first fluid innovations that comes to mind is Halliburton’s CleanStim frac fluid, which was released in 2012. This frac fluid relies on ingredients found in the food industry, according to Halliburton’s overview of the product on its website. To drive this point home, Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar drank a mouthful of the frac fluid on stage at a Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) event in late 2011.

Similarly, Range Resources has maintained transparency when it comes to the components used in its Pennsylvania completions. Range Resources published a pie chart that described the majority of its well completions. This publication showed that more than 99 percent of what is pumped into its wells is water or sand.

The remaining 0.5 percent is made up of mostly hydrochloric (HCl) acid (0.11 percent) and bacterial nutritional supplement (0.1 percent), followed by nominal amounts of friction reducer, nitrate-reducing bacteria and scale inhibitor. Range Resources uses nitrate-reducing bacteria that it says is both biodegradable and nonhazardous. (www.rangeresources.com)

Figure 1. Total completions versus polyurethane resin completions by region.Figure 1. Total completions versus polyurethane resin completions by region. (Courtesy of NavPort)

Gas Fracs

As innovation has taken over the oil and gas industry—with companies doing more with less—an interesting form of increased environmental awareness a few years ago involved using gas, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or liquid petroleum gas (LPG), in the frac process in place of water. When using water as the frac fluid, up to 80 percent of the water can remain in the reservoir, and the water that does flow back has specific disposal requirements. CO2 and LPG, on the other hand, can either be flared or recycled. Another eco-friendly measure associated with gas fracs is the elimination of biocides, since they are not necessary in gas fracs.

Although gas fracs are not a heavily used completion method, in the United States and Canada, they did increase by 14 percent in 2014 over 2013. But, because of the market, the overall number of gas completions declined by 84 percent in 2015. Canadian companies are the most prominent users of the gas frac method, with the largest operator completing gas fracs since 2013 being Bearspaw Petroleum, which is active in Alberta. In the U.S., operators such as Apache Corporation, Chesapeake Energy Corporation and Quattro Exploration and Production used GasFrac Energy Services before the company was bought by STEP Energy Services in early 2015. News from September 2015 suggests that STEP Energy Services does not have any plan for using the process developed by GasFrac, but it is keeping it in working order should it decide to begin using this method again. With the current market, the company may not be up for using waterless fracs. (Columbus Business First)

Staying Eco-Friendly on a Budget

As the downturn continues to hit nearly every segment of the exploration and production (E&P) market, we started to wonder what eco-friendly completion methods have sustained the tightened budgets.

Completions across the United States dropped approximately 37 percent in 2015, and many companies turn to their proppant type for both saving money and supporting environmentally friendly completions. The most common proppant type across North America is raw sand, representing 70 percent of the completion market and 94 percent of the total amount of proppant used in 2015 by mass. This varies by basin. For example, the Permian experienced less raw sand completions, but sand maintained its market share by mass. But in the Bakken, there is a larger percentage of resin used in both completions and by mass.

So what does all this mean? Proppant, used in every completion, can actually be altered slightly to provide a more green advantage. Operators such as SandRidge Energy, XTO Energy/ExxonMobil and others are using polyurethane resin in their completions in place of the original phenol-based resins. In 2012, polyurethane resin proppant was responsible for 1 percent of resin completions but experienced growth through 2014 when it represented 17 percent of the resin completion market. In the MidCon region specifically, no polyurethane resin was used in 2012. Then it experienced the largest percent increase of this proppant, which represented 46 percent of the resin market in 2014. This increase was driven by Jack County, Texas; Harper County, Kansas; and Woods County, Oklahoma. The Permian experienced the largest increase in polyurethane resin completions by count, increasing from 46 completions in 2012 to 1,019 completions in 2014. Despite these increases, 2015 brought a decline in completions using polyurethane resin. In 2015, polyurethane resin decreased its market share of resin completions by 7 percentage points.

Where Are We Going?

As the dust settles in 2016, will this proppant type open the door for operators to use a greener alternative, especially for those already using resin? Currently, the eco-friendly space in the industry has room for growth. In the past, Halliburton and Range Resources have made advances in improving the fluid pumped in their completions. GasFrac also used LPG in its completions, which caught the attention of STEP (which, as mentioned, has elected to hold off gas fracs until further notice).

Hopefully companies can carry on this mindset of innovation and can continue to offer operators environmentally friendly alternatives as options when they are completing their wells in 2016. For now, we will keep an eye on companies using polyurethane resin and others on the horizon for new green methods.