Halliburton received a Spotlight on New Technology Award in May at this year’s Offshore Technology Conference.
Nothing new about that. Halliburton has won honors for technology development before.
But here’s a sign of the times:
The company got the award for a technology that reduces the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing.
With so much focus today on the environmental effects of hydrofracturing, service companies are spinning out new technologies that promote greener “frac” jobs.
In fact, Halliburton has a whole suite of products designed for environmentally friendly hydraulic fracturing, several of them starting with the word Clean: CleanWave, CleanStim, CleanStream.
The CleanWave technology, which won the OTC award, treats flowback and produced water after fracturing. Using electrocoagulation, the process can recycle water for use in subsequent jobs.
“Essentially, it’s electrocoagulation that’s enhanced by surfactants or other additives as a means of promoting flocculation of suspended particles,” said Clay Terry, strategic business manager, water solutions for Halliburton in Houston.
Minimizing the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing has become especially important as the industry moves drilling into more populated and ecologically sensitive areas, said Mukul Sharma, professor of petroleum engineering and Tex Moncrief chair in petroleum and geosystems engineering at the University of Texas-Austin.
“As hydraulic fracturing becomes applied in areas where there are fairly serious surface access issues, you have to be careful about the environmental footprint you leave behind,” Sharma said.
“Those concerns are being addressed aggressively,” he noted.
Treating and recycling water to reduce the need for using freshwater in fracturing has been a primary goal of the new, greener technologies.
“What Halliburton is doing is basically telling operators, ‘You don’t have to use potable water in putting together your fracturing fluid,’” said Nicholas Gardiner, Halliburton strategic business manager, product enhancement line.
“And when you are talking about using water that is recycled, you’re talking about water that otherwise would have been disposed of in a disposal well,” he added.
Reusing water has a dual benefit, according to Terry. Not only does it reduce the demand for freshwater, it also reduces the need to treat water with additives. The use of naturally occurring formation waters or produced water provides a viable alternative to the need to add salts or other materials to freshwater to protect against clay swelling, he noted.
“This is due to the fact that the natural formation water already has the necessary constituents present at appropriate levels of dissolved solids to control clay swelling, which may be induced by using freshwater alone,” Terry said.
“That concept in itself validates the increased use of flowback and naturally occurring produced waters for fracturing fluid formulation,” he added.
Somewhere between 8 percent to as much as 40 percent of fluid volume used in fracturing flows back during subsequent clean-up operations. Halliburton’s CleanWave mobile units treat flowback and produced water at rates up to 26,000 barrels per day.
“Treating 20 barrels a minute is another way to look at it,” Terry said. “They were set at that point because we felt that was the strike point for the industry for using flowback water.”
Sharma sees water treatment as one of two key areas for reducing the environmental impact of fracturing.
“I think we’re going to move toward more control in the amount of gas that’s flared and the amount of water used,” he said.
To help reduce the demand for potable water or freshwater, the industry is developing fracturing fluid mixtures based on more saline water.
“Over the past few years, companies have gone to slickwater with polymers that can withstand fairly high salinity,” Sharma said.
“The other thing that’s happening is the use of CO2 and nitrogen in hydraulic fracturing,” he added, “which is a substitute for water.”
The oil and gas industry has to respond to environmental criticisms even when they are false or overblown, said Steve Holditch, director of the Texas A&M Energy Institute.
“Whether it’s true or not, we really need to make plans to protect the environment better,” he said. “It’s just a cost of doing business.”
Most public criticisms of hydraulic fracturing tend to focus on the potential for water pollution and air pollution and the presence of heavy truck traffic, Holditch observed.
“The air emissions problem is probably a bit more serious, with all the diesel trucks running around out there, all the diesel engines running,” he said.
He wants the industry to do a better job of measuring air quality before, during and after fracturing operations, and to find better ways to reduce emissions.
But overall, the industry is taking the right steps toward environmentally friendly hydrofracturing, he said.
“By and large, the industry gets it,” Holditch noted. “Everybody is totally aware that these are credible issues and they won’t go away.”
Additional new technologies and processes are reducing the environmental impact of many other parts of hydraulic fracturing operations.
Halliburton’s CleanStream service employs an ultraviolet-light, bacteria-control process, allowing operators to significantly reduce the volume of biocides in frac fluid to control bacterial growth.
The company’s Advanced Dry Polymer Blender allows frac fluid systems to be mixed from a dry powder, eliminating the need for liquid gel concentrate containing a large percentage of hydrocarbon-based carrier fluid.
“The Dry Polymer Blender enables us to remove huge amounts of hydrocarbons from the fracturing process,” said Walt Glover, Halliburton marketing manager, water solutions.
Glover said the company also has developed a “Chemistry Scoring Index” to rank the potential environmental effects of chemical products used in oilfield services. The relative hazards of products that perform the same function can be compared and evaluated.
“Using the Chemistry Scoring Index enables operators to select a suite of chemicals that provides the required performance along with the lowest possible impact on health, safety and the environment,” he said.
Service companies and operators alike are incorporating green technologies into the day-to-day aspects of hydraulic fracturing.
“We’ve actually moved some of our equipment from diesel to solar power. We’re adding proppant storage capacity to our fleet with our SandCastle storage bin, which uses solar power to erect itself, then uses gravity to feed the sand into the mix,” Gardiner explained.
“It’s not always technology. One of the things we’re doing for operators is to help them reduce the cost of moving water from one place to the next,” Terry said.
As an example, he cited Halliburton’s installation of temporary water pipelines to support fracturing operations in Colorado, “which takes a significant amount of truck traffic off the road.”
Future developments by the service industry could include environmentally friendly frac fluids. There’s already talk about the possibility of creating “kitchen counter” or “kitchen sink” fluids, based on chemicals no more hazardous than those found in and under the typical household kitchen sink.
Halliburton’s CleanStim service already is using a frac fluid formulation made with ingredients sourced from the food industry. Components include a gelling agent, crosslinker/buffer, breakers and a surfactant.
Kitchen counter frac fluids are still in the development stage. And the amount of chemicals needed in large-scale hydrofracturing still will be substantial.
“Many of the chemicals that are used in hydraulic fracturing are less hazardous than people use around their households. But the volumes are large, so you have to be extra careful,” Sharma cautioned.
Still, with so many advances taking place now, environmentally green hydraulic fracturing might be right around the corner.