Statistics published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predict that world energy consumption will increase from 524 quadrillion btu in 2010 to 630 quadrillion btu in 2020.
Such a sharp rise in the call for energy invites questions about how that increase in demand will be met. Inevitably, a portion of that demand will be satisfied by natural gas and shale oil that has been recovered using fracking.
Fracking is a contentious and divisive issue. There are those who believe that it will revolutionise the efficiency and profitability of the oil & gas industry and provide a secure and dependable source of energy for the future.
There are also those who believe that the practice will lead to the destruction and desolation of natural environments around the world. The reality of the situation lies somewhere between those two polarised viewpoints.
One of the main charges levelled at fracking companies is that the fracking solution injected into the earth’s surface contains harmful chemicals which could leach back into the water table.
Fracking solutions vary from site to site based on the make up of the shale deposits.
Additives typically include dilute acids, breakers, biocides, corrosion inhibitors, friction reducers, potassium chloride and PH adjusting agents. These chemicals make up 0.5% to 2% of the total solution, with the remainder made up of water.
CEO of Breitling Energy Companies, Chris Faulkner, believes that the more refined the process becomes, the less harmful the fracking solution will be to the environment.
“We are in the process of making the frack fluid recipe green or food-grade safe, so the argument that it is dangerous will go away shortly,” he said.
Despite this innovation, there is still some way to go before the use of frack fluid, which is safe for human consumption, becomes the standard practice in the industry.
“It is not a widely spread practice yet because there is more cost involved. Right now, a lot of companies are using greener frack fluids. Yes there are chemicals in there, but the companies are disclosing what the chemical make-up is. The argument is that people don’t want frack fluid in their water supply, and I get that, but the reality is that the main focus of the industry is on making totally green frack fluid,” he said.
Balancing the economics of oil & gas production with the environmental impact of fracking is a crucial challenge facing everybody in the industry.
“You can recycle and clean the water, remove the suspended, undissolved solid matter and dispose of that but the process is very expensive. As an industry, not to be negative, unless somebody forces us to recycle the water, my guess is that no one will because they won’t want to absorb the cost. Most fracking is done by smaller companies and they are not going to be able to afford that cost,” he said.
In time it is hoped that technological advancement will make fracking more economical and, as a result, more environmentally sound.
Yiannis Bessiris, Middle East sales manager of advanced solutions for Honeywell Process Solutions believes that basic infrastructure is hampering technological advances.
“One key element which is delaying the progress of these technologies is water supply and basic piping of water to the site,” said Yiannis Bessiris.
Once the infrastructure catches up with the technology, it is hoped that the cost and time associated with fracking will reduce significantly.
“Based on the technological innovations, which are happening so quickly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of advances being made to speed up the pace of shale exploration in the region.
For example I was reading that Aramco has reduced the cycle in which they want to go after shale gas by seven years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all countries in the GCC focusing on this area,” he said.
There is a long way to go before fracking is accepted as an environmentally ‘safe’ process. However, the reality of sharply increasing global energy consumption means that it is a necessary tool in the industries toolbox. As public confidence in fracking grows, resistance to the practice will wane.
Producing frack fluid that is food grade safe would help restore pubilc confidence in the practice and rehabilitate the fracking industry’s faultering public image.