Tag Archives: fracking

Tracking gas, oil, and, possibly, water in wells

A Feb. 24, 2014 Rice University news release (also on EurekAlert) and on Azonano as a Feb. 25, 2014 news item) describes a technique tracks which wells are producing oil or gas in fracking operations,

A tabletop device invented at Rice University can tell how efficiently a nanoparticle would travel through a well and may provide a wealth of information for oil and gas producers.

The device gathers data on how tracers – microscopic particles that can be pumped into and recovered from wells – move through deep rock formations that have been opened by hydraulic fracturing [fracking].

Here’s an image of two Rice scientists playing around with a prototype of their tabletop device,

Rice University chemist Andrew Barron and graduate student Brittany Oliva-Chatelain investigate the prototype of a device that allows for rapid testing of nanotracers for the evaluation of wells subject to hydraulic fracturing. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Rice University chemist Andrew Barron and graduate student Brittany Oliva-Chatelain investigate the prototype of a device that allows for rapid testing of nanotracers for the evaluation of wells subject to hydraulic fracturing. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

The news release goes on to describe the fracking process and explain why the companies don’t know which well is actually producing (Note: Links have been removed),

Drilling companies use fracturing to pump oil and gas from previously unreachable reservoirs. Fluids are pumped into a wellbore under high pressure to fracture rocks, and materials called “proppants,” like sand or ceramic, hold the fractures open. “They’re basically making a crack in the rock and filling it with little beads,” said Rice chemist Andrew Barron, whose lab produced the device detailed in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Environmental Science Processes and Impacts.

But the companies struggle to know which insertion wells — where fluids are pumped in — are connected to the production wells where oil and gas are pumped out. “They may be pumping down three wells and producing from six, but they have very little idea of which well is connected to which,” he said.

Tracer or sensor particles added to fracturing fluids help solve that problem, but there’s plenty of room for optimization, especially in minimizing the volume of nanoparticles used now, he said. “Ideally, we would take a very small amount of a particle that does not interact with proppant, rock or the gunk that’s been pumped downhole, inject it in one well and collect it at the production well. The time it takes to go from one to the other will tell you about the connectivity underground.”

Barron explained the proppant itself accounts for most of the surface area the nanoparticles encounter, so it’s important to tune the tracers to the type of proppant used.

He said the industry lacks a uniform method to test and optimize custom-designed nanoparticles for particular formations and fluids. The ultimate goal  is to optimize the particles so they don’t clump together or stick to the rock or proppant and can be reliably identified when they exit the production well.

Here’s how the tracers work (from the news release),

The automated device by Barron, Rice alumnus Samuel Maguire-Boyle and their colleagues allows them to run nanotracers through a small model of a geological formation and quickly analyze what comes out the other side.

The device sends a tiny amount of silver nanoparticle tracers in rapid pulses through a solid column, simulating the much longer path the particles would travel in a well. That gives the researchers an accurate look at both how sticky and how robust the particles are.

“We chose silver nanoparticles for their plasmon resonance,” Barron said. “They’re very easy to see (with a spectroscope) making for high-quality data.” He said silver nanoparticles would be impractical in a real well, but because they’re easy to modify with other useful chemicals, they are good models for custom nanoparticles.

“The process is simple enough that our undergraduates make different nanoparticles and very quickly test them to find out how they behave,” Barron said.

The method also shows promise for tracking water from source to destination, which could be valuable for government agencies that want to understand how aquifers are linked or want to trace the flow of elements like pollutants in a water supply, he said.

Barron said the Rice lab won’t oversee production of the test rig, but it doesn’t have to. “We just published the paper, but if companies want to make their own, it includes the instructions. The supplementary material is basically a manual for how to do this,” he said.

You can find the paper with this link and/or citation,

Automated method for determining the flow of surface functionalized nanoparticles through a hydraulically fractured mineral formation using plasmonic silver nanoparticles by Samuel J. Maguire-Boyle, David J. Garner, Jessica E. Heimann, Lucy Gao, Alvin W. Orbaek, and Andrew R. Barron. Environ. Sci.: Processes Impacts, 2014,16, 220-231 DOI: 10.1039/C3EM00718A First published online 07 Jan 2014

This paper has been published in one of the Royal Society’s open access journals.

My final note, one of my more recent posts about fracking highlights some research that was taking place in Texas (Rice University’s home state) at Texas A&M University, see my July 29, 2013 posting.

Sounds like fracking to me: research into unconventional hydrocarbon production at Texas A&M University

A July 29, 2013 news item on Nanowerk features a Flotek Industries-sponsored research initiative at Texas A&M University,

Flotek Industries, Inc. announced today sponsorship of applied research at Texas A&M University to investigate the impact of nanotechnology on oil and natural gas production in emerging, unconventional resource plays.

“With the acceleration of activity in oil and gas producing shales, a better understanding of the impact of various completion chemistries on tight formations with low porosity and permeability will be key to developing optimal completion techniques in the future,” said John Chisholm, Flotek’s Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer. “While we know Flotek’s Complex nano-Fluid chemistries have been successful in enhancing production in tight resource formations, we believe a more complete understanding of the interaction between our chemistries and geologic formations as well as a more precise comprehension of the physical properties and impact of our nanofluids in the completion process will significantly enhance the efficacy of the unconventional hydrocarbon completion process. This research continues our relationship with Texas A&M where we also are conducting research into acidizing applications in Enhanced Oil Recovery.”

The words ‘unconventional’ and ‘shale’ in the context of oil and gas production suggest fracking to me. For anyone who’s unfamiliar with the practice, here’s an excerpt from a good description in a June 27, 2013 news item on the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) website,

What is fracking?

Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well.

The process is carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally to the rock layer. The process can create new pathways to release gas or can be used to extend existing channels.

Why is it controversial?

The extensive use of fracking in the US, where it has revolutionised the energy industry, has prompted environmental concerns.

The first is that fracking uses huge amounts of water that must be transported to the fracking site, at significant environmental cost. The second is the worry that potentially carcinogenic chemicals used may escape and contaminate groundwater around the fracking site. The industry suggests pollution incidents are the results of bad practice, rather than an inherently risky technique.

The July 29, 2013 Flotek Industries news release (on PRNewswire’s heraldonline.com website) which originated the news item provides more details about the research initiative,

Specifically, the research will focus its investigation on the oil recovery potential of complex nanofluids and select surfactants under subsurface pressure and temperature conditions of liquids-rich shales.

Dr. I. Yucel Akkutlu, Associate Professor of Petroleum Engineering in the Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University will serve as the principal investigator for the project. Dr. Akkutlu received his Masters and PhD in Petroleum Engineering from the University of Southern California. He has over a decade of postgraduate theoretical and experimental research experience in unconventional oil and gas recovery, enhanced oil recovery and reactive flow and transport in heterogeneous porous media. He has recently participated in industry-sponsored research on resource shales including analysis of microscopic data to better understand fluid storage and transport properties of organic-rich shales.

“As unconventional resource opportunities continue to grow in importance to hydrocarbon production, understanding ways to maximize recovery will be key to improving the efficacy of these projects,” said Dr. Akkutlu. “The key to enhancing recovery will be to best understand robust, new technologies and their impact on the completion process. Research into complex nanofluid chemistries to understand the physical properties and formation interactions will play an integral role in the future of completion design to optimize recovery from unconventional hydrocarbon resources.”

There was a little surprise (for me) on the website’s Our Company webpage,

Flotek’s vision is to be the premier energy services company focused on best-in class technology, cutting-edge innovation and exceptional customer service all standing in the support of our never-ending commitment to provide superior returns for our stakeholders. Flotek Industries Inc., is a diversified global supplier of drilling-and production-related products and services to the energy and mining industries. Flotek is headquartered in Houston, Texas and its common shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange market under the stock ticker symbol, “FTK.” FLOTEK was originally incorporated under the laws of the Province of British Columbia on May 17, 1985. [emphasis mine] On October 23, 2001, we approved a change in our corporate domicile to the state of Delaware and a reverse stock split of 120 to 1. On October 31, 2001, we completed a reverse merger with CESI Chemical, Inc. (“CESI”). …

I wasn’t expecting the British Columbia (Canadian province where I live) connection.

Moving on to the nanotechnology connection, there’s this about the nano-fluid technology they use currently on the company’s homepage,

Chemical & Logistics / CESI Chemical

Complex nano-Fluid™ Technology

See how CESI Chemical’s patented CnF® will enhance hydrocarbon production and recovery and improve production economics in almost every completion scenario.

If you should visit the company website, expect to fill out a registration for any product information additional to what you see on the homepage or product index page.

Graphene and radioactive waste

In fact, the material in question is graphene oxide and researchers at Rice University (Texas) and Lomonosov Moscow State University have found that it can rapidly remove radioactive material from water  From the Jan. 8, 2013 news item on ScienceDaily,

A collaborative effort by the Rice lab of chemist James Tour and the Moscow lab of chemist Stepan Kalmykov determined that microscopic, atom-thick flakes of graphene oxide bind quickly to natural and human-made radionuclides and condense them into solids. The flakes are soluble in liquids and easily produced in bulk.

The Rice University Jan. 8, 2013 news release, which originated the news item, was written by Mike Williams and provides additional insight and quotes from the researchers (Note: Links have been removed),

The discovery, Tour said, could be a boon in the cleanup of contaminated sites like the Fukushima nuclear plants damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. It could also cut the cost of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas recovery and help reboot American mining of rare earth metals, he said.

Graphene oxide’s large surface area defines its capacity to adsorb toxins, Kalmykov said. “So the high retention properties are not surprising to us,” he said. “What is astonishing is the very fast kinetics of sorption, which is key.”

“In the probabilistic world of chemical reactions where scarce stuff (low concentrations) infrequently bumps into something with which it can react, there is a greater likelihood that the ‘magic’ will happen with graphene oxide than with a big old hunk of bentonite,” said Steven Winston, a former vice president of Lockheed Martin and Parsons Engineering and an expert in nuclear power and remediation who is working with the researchers. “In short, fast is good.”

Here’s how it works (from the news release; Note: Links have been removed),

The researchers focused on removing radioactive isotopes of the actinides  and lanthanides  – the 30 rare earth elements in the periodic table – from liquids, rather than solids or gases. “Though they don’t really like water all that much, they can and do hide out there,” Winston said. “From a human health and environment point of view, that’s where they’re least welcome.”

Naturally occurring radionuclides are also unwelcome in fracking fluids that bring them to the surface in drilling operations, Tour said. “When groundwater comes out of a well and it’s radioactive above a certain level, they can’t put it back into the ground,” he said. “It’s too hot. Companies have to ship contaminated water to repository sites around the country at very large expense.” The ability to quickly filter out contaminants on-site would save a great deal of money, he said.

He sees even greater potential benefits for the mining industry. Environmental requirements have “essentially shut down U.S. mining of rare earth metals, which are needed for cell phones,” Tour said. “China owns the market because they’re not subject to the same environmental standards. So if this technology offers the chance to revive mining here, it could be huge.”

Tour said that capturing radionuclides does not make them less radioactive, just easier to handle. “Where you have huge pools of radioactive material, like at Fukushima, you add graphene oxide and get back a solid material from what were just ions in a solution,” he said. “Then you can skim it off and burn it. Graphene oxide burns very rapidly and leaves a cake of radioactive material you can then reuse.”

The low cost and biodegradable qualities of graphene oxide should make it appropriate for use in permeable reactive barriers, a fairly new technology for in situ groundwater remediation, he said.

Romanchuk, Slesarev, Kalmykov and Tour are co-authors of the paper with Dmitry Kosynkin, a former postdoctoral researcher at Rice, now with Saudi Aramco. Kalmykov is radiochemistry division head and a professor at Lomonosov Moscow State University. Tour is the T.T. and W.F. Chao Chair in Chemistry as well as a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of computer science at Rice.

Here’s a ‘before’ shot of solution with graphene oxide and an ‘after’ shot where radionuclides have been added and begun to clump,

A new method for removing radioactive material from solutions is the result of collaboration between Rice University and Lomonosov Moscow State University. The vial at left holds microscopic particles of graphene oxide in a solution. At right, graphene oxide is added to simulated nuclear waste, which quickly clumps for easy removal. Image by Anna Yu. Romanchuk/Lomonosov Moscow State University

A new method for removing radioactive material from solutions is the result of collaboration between Rice University and Lomonosov Moscow State University. The vial at left holds microscopic particles of graphene oxide in a solution. At right, graphene oxide is added to simulated nuclear waste, which quickly clumps for easy removal. Image by Anna Yu. Romanchuk/Lomonosov Moscow State University

As noted in the ScienceDaily news item, the research has been published in the Royal Society’s Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics journal,

Anna Yu. Romanchuk, Alexander Slesarev, Stepan N. Kalmykov, Dmitry Kosynkin, James M Tour. Graphene Oxide for Effective Radionuclide Removal. Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, 2012; DOI: 10.1039/C2CP44593J

This article is behind a paywall.