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Technology draws bead on hydraulic fracturing
Fuel Fix ^ | January 14, 2013 | Jeannie Kever

Posted on 01/14/2013 6:57:07 AM PST by thackney

J.R. Ewing never mentioned ceramic proppant on “Dallas.” Nor is it part of the plot in “Promised Land.”

But that’s Hollywood. Drilling in the vast shale fields of Texas, North Dakota and elsewhere in the United States may not look much different from the drilling many people remember from earlier booms, but the technology used to break apart shale rocks – and hold the cracks open, allowing fossil fuels to flow into the well – has created a new wave of entrepreneurs.

Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing allow companies to pull oil and natural gas from dense rock formations by blasting chemicals, sand or ceramic beads, along with millions of gallons of water, deep underground to break up rock and release the hydrocarbons trapped inside.

Most drillers still use sand, especially in shallow or low-pressure wells. But a growing number of companies have formed to produce tiny ceramic beads, known as ceramic proppant, for use in the wells, based on research showing the beads can penetrate farther into the rock and hold up better under pressure, increasing the productivity of wells.

Tough competition

Count Gary Davis, a real estate developer and investor from Austin, as among the new evangelists for ceramic proppant.

Davis and a group of investors bought 400 acres in West Central Texas and set out to prove that the beads, traditionally made from specialized types of clay found in only a few parts of the world, could instead be made from clay found almost anywhere.

Another company, Oxane Materials, is hoping the advantages of its product, developed in a lab at Rice University using nanotechnology, will outweigh its higher cost.

The competition is tough, especially as drillers try to control costs; even market-leader Carbo Ceramics reported a slight drop in sales during the third quarter of 2012, although CEO Gary Kolstad said sales were up for the year.

He quotes studies showing that ceramic proppant can increase initial production and ultimate recovery rates by more than 20 percent.

But most U.S. wells that require proppant – a generic term that includes sand, resin-coated sand and ceramic proppant – use sand, which is less expensive.

Michael Economides, an engineering professor at the University of Houston, said that’s often a good decision.

Despite the improved production with ceramic, Economides said the cost – he estimates it can be four to 10 times as much as sand – isn’t always worth it.

But he and other experts say some formations require ceramic proppants because sand can fail in a deep or high-pressure well. Ceramic proppant is used offshore, as well.

“If they frac with sand and the well dies within a few months because the sand all crushed, that’s a bad investment,” said Jon Olson, associate professor of petroleum engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.

Nanotechnology edge

Ceramic proppant has been around for decades, since hydraulic fracturing first was used with vertical drilling. It began to draw new attention after fracturing was paired with horizontal drilling in U.S. shale plays, boosting demand for all types of oil field services.

New companies jumped into the sand business.

Most of the sand used in fracturing comes from Wisconsin and elsewhere in the upper Midwest; there is also a fracturing sand operation in Central Texas.

Carbo Ceramics, based in Houston, sold a record 1.6 billion pounds of ceramic proppant for the year that ended Sept. 30; it also sells resin-coated sand and has manufacturing plants in the U.S., Russia and China.

A number of startup companies have entered the field.

“It’s always nice to say we predicted the future,” said Andrew Barron, a Rice University chemistry professor whose lab utilized nanotechnology to design the proppant sold by Oxane Materials. “We were in the right place at the right time as the market grew.”

The technology could have been used a number of different ways, but Barron said researchers considered proppant the most economically viable.

Oxane’s proppant is hollow, so it is lighter but still stronger than other proppants, he said.

Although it is more expensive than conventional ceramic proppant, Barron said the results are better.

“There’s some education required,” he said. “There’s a reluctance to be first. But no one wants to be second, either.”

Davis has a different sales pitch for Brownwood Clay Holdings.

He and the other investors bought the property near Brownwood in 2011 and began compiling possible uses for its clay deposits, which had been used for brick and tiles.

Ceramic proppant was on the list, even though it usually has been made from bauxite or kaolin, rather than common clay minerals.

Success not guaranteed

The company filed a provisional patent for its process in July and is looking for a company to build a manufacturing plant in Brownwood, Davis said.

It has tested the process on common clay found elsewhere, he said, suggesting that it would ultimately be able to produce proppant at shale plays almost anywhere. That could reduce transportation costs for raw materials as well as for the finished product.

But Brownwood Clay Holdings and other start-ups aren’t guaranteed success.

Even so, Economides said ceramic proppant remains attractive to investors because hydraulic fracturing has grown so dramatically over the past five years.

Future international growth – in places shale fields have been identified but are largely untapped – could provide an even more lucrative market, especially if local deposits of sand prove unsuitable, he said.

Kolstad, the Carbo Ceramics CEO, is philosophical about companies’ reluctance to use more expensive proppants after spending millions of dollars to drill a well.

“In the oil patch,” he said, “we’ll step over a dollar to pick up a nickel.”


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: energy; hydraulicfracturing; naturalgas; oil

1 posted on 01/14/2013 6:57:17 AM PST by thackney
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To: thackney
Ha...they all missed the boat....

GASFRAC baby...existing technology and implemented on a number of wells.

2 posted on 01/14/2013 7:15:13 AM PST by spokeshave (The only people better off today than 4 years ago are the Prisoners at Guantanamo.)
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To: thackney

Kitty litter ?


3 posted on 01/14/2013 7:15:55 AM PST by Eric in the Ozarks (In the game of life, there are no betting limits)
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

I don’t think anybody wants something that clumps, swells and absorbs pumped down their well.


4 posted on 01/14/2013 7:21:36 AM PST by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: thackney
"Most drillers still use sand, especially in shallow or low-pressure wells. But a growing number of companies have formed to produce tiny ceramic beads, known as ceramic proppant, for use in the wells, based on research showing the beads can penetrate farther into the rock and hold up better under pressure, increasing the productivity of wells."

Hmmm....small round beads of uniform size penetrate further than irregularly-shaped sand particles.....

This sounds like a D'OH moment to me.

5 posted on 01/14/2013 7:22:42 AM PST by Wonder Warthog
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To: spokeshave

Gas fracturing also requires proppant, regarless if made from sand, resin-coated sand or ceramic.

The gas would replace the water used to move the proppant, but it still requires something to hold the cracks open after the fluid is removed.

They are not competing technologies, they are complementary, or independent.


6 posted on 01/14/2013 7:25:08 AM PST by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: thackney
Kitty litter is calcined clay. I think with a little more calcining, it could be made harder and with a little additive, could be made more like a ceramic.

(The company was one of my former heavy oil customers before nat gas blew out.)

7 posted on 01/14/2013 7:30:06 AM PST by Eric in the Ozarks (In the game of life, there are no betting limits)
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To: thackney

Canadian Fracmaster used CO2...


8 posted on 01/14/2013 7:38:19 AM PST by Eric in the Ozarks (In the game of life, there are no betting limits)
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

To replace the water, not the sand.


9 posted on 01/14/2013 7:43:56 AM PST by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

Sorry, forgot to include the link:

Analysis of Production Response to CO2/Sand Fracturing: A Case Study
http://www.onepetro.org/mslib/servlet/onepetropreview?id=00029191


10 posted on 01/14/2013 7:45:54 AM PST by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: thackney
They used a +3 API oil cut from a heavy oil fractionator with the CO2. Ditto Unocal for their off shore well stimulation program.
11 posted on 01/14/2013 8:00:56 AM PST by Eric in the Ozarks (In the game of life, there are no betting limits)
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

Interesting, thanks


12 posted on 01/14/2013 8:07:35 AM PST by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: thackney

I find Jeannie Kever’s reference to the material being pumped out in the Fuel Fix article as “fossil fuel” “interesting” and perhaps disturbing.


13 posted on 01/14/2013 8:15:27 AM PST by mosesdapoet ("To punish a province let a professor rule it." Frederick The Great paraphrased)
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To: mosesdapoet

Do you understand what a sedimentary basin is? And that all commercial oil production is sourced from a sedimentary basin?

Biotic oil geology has lead to the production of oil for over a century.

Abiotic oil theory has lead to the production of cash from gullible investors and occasional goverments, but never commercial oil facilities.


14 posted on 01/14/2013 8:22:01 AM PST by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: thackney

Coming off the unit, the oil was free flowing, clear with a slight gold tint. One afternoon in a beaker exposed to sunlight would turn it dark green, then black.
As sales increased, we discovered the product had several issues possibly related to skin injury so it was withdrawn and routed into the 2 oil pool.


15 posted on 01/14/2013 8:38:04 AM PST by Eric in the Ozarks (In the game of life, there are no betting limits)
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To: thackney

In the News/Activism forum, on a thread titled Technology draws bead on hydraulic fracturing, thackney wrote:
Do you understand what a sedimentary basin is? And that all commercial oil production is sourced from a sedimentary basin?

Do you understand the difference between fossil and biotic ? Didn’t know T Rexes were found several thousands of feet down but oil has. Some oil make come from “fossil” decomposition but not todays oil. We still don’t know the processes involved. But there is a hint, where radon gas is pleantiful we also find natural gas and oil.


16 posted on 01/14/2013 9:22:05 AM PST by mosesdapoet ("To punish a province let a professor rule it." Frederick The Great paraphrased)
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To: mosesdapoet
Didn’t know T Rexes were found several thousands of feet down but oil has. Some oil make come from “fossil” decomposition but not todays oil. We still don’t know the processes involved. But there is a hint, where radon gas is pleantiful we also find natural gas and oil.

I'll go back to the first question again. A Sedimentary Basin can be tens of thousands of feet deep. It is material laid down from the surface involving lakes or oceans. The world didn't always look like it did today. Depositing a couple of centimeters of sediment every thousand of years adds up to quite a bit over a few hundred million years.

The T-Rex joke is for cartoons and very young children. We get oil today from squeezing fresh algae. Trap algae, plankton and the like in an oxygen depleted environment, warm and pressurize for millions of years, oil and gas.

We still don’t know the processes involved.

Perhaps you didn't, but plenty of others involved in finding and producing these energy sources do.

You might try to answer the questions how multiple layers of oil/gas exist in the same vertical formation sealed by multiple layers of impermeable cap rock exist if brought up from the bottom instead of laid down from the top with the same sediment.

17 posted on 01/14/2013 9:39:29 AM PST by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: thackney

In the News/Activism forum, on a thread titled Technology draws bead on hydraulic fracturing, thackney wrote responding to this
Didn’t know T Rexes were found several thousands of feet down but oil has. Some oil make come from “fossil” decomposition but not todays oil. We still don’t know the processes involved. But there is a hint, where radon gas is pleantiful we also find natural gas and oil.
“I’ll go back to the first question again. A Sedimentary Basin can be tens of thousands of feet deep. It is material laid down from the surface involving lakes or oceans. The world didn’t always look like it did today. Depositing a couple of centimeters of sediment every thousand of years adds up to quite a bit over a few hundred million years.”

Yea and Antartica was once in the tropics, Everest was once below or at sea level and present day Chicago is built upon sea shells. What your offering is an interesting but unproven assertion and does not explain oil and natural gas “plays” found all over the place. Nor is that view generally accepted but may explain some oil and natural gas fields but not all.


18 posted on 01/14/2013 12:21:41 PM PST by mosesdapoet ("To punish a province let a professor rule it." Frederick The Great paraphrased)
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To: mosesdapoet
Nor is that view generally accepted but may explain some oil and natural gas fields but not all.

Name a single oil field not in a sedimentary basin. Just name one.

Name a single oil field found in Igneous Rock and not sourced to Sedimentary Sources.

19 posted on 01/14/2013 12:30:02 PM PST by thackney (life is fragile, handle with prayer)
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To: thackney; mosesdapoet

Ok, I’ve popped the popcorn. Think I’ll sit on the sidelines for a while and enjoy. Wish I was on a ‘thackney’ ping list. Your articles and graphs fascinate me. Thanks.


20 posted on 01/14/2013 2:37:40 PM PST by houeto (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: Eric in the Ozarks

Couldn’t they use the sand and turn the silcate crystal into glass beads ? or would that take up to much engery ?


21 posted on 01/15/2013 6:14:37 PM PST by American Constitutionalist
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To: American Constitutionalist

Don’t know the sand side of this biz. There was a sand mine in Wedron, Illinois that I used to sell coal to. Their sand was as bright as glass...


22 posted on 01/15/2013 6:32:18 PM PST by Eric in the Ozarks (In the game of life, there are no betting limits)
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