Regardless of what governmental officials say, hydraulic fracturing, most commonly referred to as fracking, is not green. Not only that it leads to ground water contamination, denigrated air quality, and raised CO2 levels, the process also uses up as much as 2 million gallons of water per year.
New research conducted by General Electric Co. brings a glimpse of hope, as experts are trying to find a way to use carbon dioxide instead of water to extract oil and gas from deep underground, but the odds are not looking good for the near future. Here’s the story.
The non-renewable energy industry is currently under enormous pressure. On one hand, the natural resources are depleting rapidly, while on the other, the emission targets are becoming harder and harder to reach as governments are trying to comply with the numerous climate change warnings. Initially, fracking was seen as the solution to the problem of limited oil and gas resources, however as the practice became more and more common, environmentalists pushed harder and harder against it.
This is why, a group of experts at General Electric Co. (GE), decided to take up a $10 billion research program, which aims to tackle both the problem of pollution and the continuous use of precious water that could otherwise serve thousands of households. The team is looking at how CO2, or its chilled form to be more precise, could replace water in the process of pumping gas and oil from great depths. The project is a joint venture between the guys at GE and a Norwegian oil and gas producer, Statoil ASA.
The aim of their work is to make fracking completely water-free. By using the so-called “super-critical fluid“, a chilled form of CO2, which is something between liquid and solid, they hope to reduce the impact fracking has on the environment. The method has already been applied on a small scale by the Canadian FracMaster company back in the early 1990s, however the company bankrupted before it could make sufficient advances in the technology.
Using CO2 in gas and oil extraction has quite a number of benefits. Firstly, wells that are fracked with this super-critical fluid are found to produce more oil and natural gas, simply due to the higher pressure. Secondly, CO2 could be easily transported in the form of a compressed gas, even if pipes are not available. And last but not least, CO2 that is captured from other industries, could well serve the purpose. Once used for fracking, the gas could be captured and then reused, as opposed to water, which simply goes to waste.
All in all, it is a very good idea. Unfortunately, the research is still in a very early stage. So, from environmental standpoint, there is still some hope in “green” fracking. Let’s hope it becomes possible sooner.
Image (c) Reuters