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New Waterless Fracking Method Avoids Pollution Problems, But Drillers Slow to Embrace It

Little-noticed drilling technique uses propane gel, not water, to release natural gas. Higher cost, lack of data and industry habit stand in the way.

By Anthony Brino, InsideClimate News, and Brian Nearing, Albany Times-Union

Nov 6, 2011
(Page 3 of 3 )
Tanks labeled as "Brine Water" on a property in Dimock, Pa.

"My gut feeling is that this is the way to go," said Lee. He said LPG can make gas wells more productive by eliminating potential blockage by water left behind and absorbed into fractured rock, which can close off some pathways for trapped gas to rise.

Lee says that while propane must be handled with care, the drilling industry should also pay more attention to the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.

Burnett, from the environmentally-friendly drilling program at Texas A&M, said his group has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to get Jadela's data on its propane gas well. "This in the kind of technology that our group is trying to locate, to document and then make that information available to the industry."

Phillip Knoll, president of Nova Scotia-based Corridor Resources, said his company started drilling propane wells in 2009 in New Brunswick. Corridor Resources helped write a 2011 case study that is available through the Society of Petroleum Engineers. It showed gas fracking can work.

"We had absolutely tremendous results that compared favorably with other techniques," like hydrofracking, said Knoll. "This technology is improving substantially."

His company also uses water-based hydrofracking.

Since 2008 30 LPG wells have been drilled in British Columbia, all by GasFrac, said Sandra Steilo, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Energy and Mines. No accidents have been reported.

She offered an explanation for why the LPG method is not more widely used. "As far as we're aware, the technology has so far not proved cost-effective for gas wells," she said. "The technology works best when sufficient infrastructure is in place to allow the propane to be captured and re-used."

InsideClimate News produced this report in a partnership with the Albany (New York) Times-Union.

GasFrac diagram

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