The controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in its current form, may soon become a thing of the past.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it’s been colloquially termed, is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas, and even oil, inside. The process forms fissures that allow any gas or oil trapped in it to flow freely.
Fracking has undoubtedly opened up access to vast fields of natural resources that could yield trillions of barrels of oil and far more natural gas that had previously been thought of as worthless.
However, the process has raised numerous concerns about how environmentally safe it is – none more than the fact that water and soil contamination can occur during and after the process.
Chimera Energy Corporation of Houston, Texas, has announced that they are licensing a new method for extracting oil and gas from shale fields that doesn’t contaminate ground water resources because it uses exothermic reactions instead of water to fracture shale.
Despite the fact that fracking is used mainly in deep, sealed geological deposits, there is the fear that it may pose a danger to groundwater. Depending on the method involved and the type of oil field, various other materials are added to the water used in fracking, such as sand, foaming agents, gels and friction reducers. The concern is that the water, which is pumped out after the process, may either leak these substances plus radioactive radon from the well directly into aquifer layers, or contaminate water supplies after pumping out.
For this reason, some fracking engineers prefer non-hydraulic methods. One of these, used recently in New York State, swaps the water for gelled propane. The idea being that the propane reverts to a gas at the end of the process and can be pumped out, leaving any additives behind in the well, much like boiling seawater and leaving behind the salt.
The Chimera process takes this a step further by eliminating any working liquid. Details of the process have not been made public yet due to patent concerns, but Chimera Energy uses what is called “dry fracturing” or “exothermic extraction.” First developed in China, this involves using hot gases rather than liquid to fracture the shale. This was originally intended for wells in arctic regions where water used in fracking freezes, but Chimera Energy has developed it for general use.
In dry fracturing, metal oxides, ultra-expansive evaporants and pumice are pumped into the well. The metal oxides react with one another to form an exothermic reaction. Extremely hot gases are generated that expand and crack the shale. Meanwhile, the pumice shoots in and reinforces the fractures, keeping them from closing and allowing the gas or oil to flow.
Chimera Energy claims that not only is the technique environmentally safe, but that it is compatible with any existing well in the world.
On paper, this seems like a very viable solution.
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