Propane and natural gas production in the US is booming thanks to the surge in shale gas reserves and the relatively new extraction method know as hydraulic fracturing.
But the extraction technique is controversial and has sparked heated debate about whether it is responsible for contaminating ground water.
As the pro-energy versus pro-environment debate rages, new solutions are being touted to make the “fracking” process safer and cleaner by reducing the amount of water and chemicals that are needed, chron.com reported last week.
Amy Mall, senior policy analyst for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, said the new solutions were a step in the right direction. “We need scientific research to better understand their impacts.”
Fracking involves blasting a cocktail of water, sand and toxic chemicals into the earth at high pressure to free gas and oil reserves from rock formations. Oil and gas companies are reluctant to divulge the chemicals they use and several studies have blamed hydraulic fracturing for contaminating waterways and drinking water sources.
Most of the water used to free the gas and oil is trapped underground. But a new option is to swap water for propane gas, which is then recaptured as it escapes from the earth.
Canadian company GasFrac Energy Services is already employing propane instead of water. A single fracking job can use between two million and six million gallons of water While most of that water remains underground, the fluid that does return to the surface has to be disposed of as contaminated wastewater.
GasFrac chief technology officer Robert Lestz said propane does not leave behind the contaminants and sludge that water-based fracturing does.
“When we are using a fluid that costs $2 per gallon, versus water, at the front end it is more expensive,” Lestz said. But the liquid propane gas can be recaptured, resold and offset that cost.”
Meanwhile, Houston-based oil field supplier Flotek Industries has found another solution that replaces traditional chemicals with extract from orange peels, turning the conventional mixture of water and toxins into a biodegradable blend. Another company is recycling its fracking water, using one gallon of water 100 times.
A new Texas law will require well operators to report publicly what chemicals are used in their fracturing fluids starting as soon as next year.
Oil field services company Halliburton names on its website some ingredients for its version of environmentally conscious fracturing fluid, called CleanStim. The company notes that all of the ingredients are federally approved for use in food production.
But as with replacing water with propane, often the new solutions are more expensive than current practices, limiting their widespread adoption.