New Fracturing Technology Unveiled

By Trent Jacobs 17 Feb 2014

Operators involved in hydraulic fracturing projects are becoming more aggressive about reigning in costs and that means using fewer materials, people, and equipment where possible. There is also increased effort to better analyze the underlying science of what takes place during fracturing and how that information can be used to design more effective models to increase production. Three technologies newly commercialized seek to overcome those very challenges.

The technologies were unveiled at the SPE Hydraulic Fracturing Technology Conference and Exhibition in The Woodlands, Texas, in February, as service companies and equipment manufactures debuted some of their latest and greatest technologies to more than 2,300 attendees. A recurring theme throughout the annual conference was the need to increase efficiency and many of the technologies featured on the exhibition floor were designed with that in mind.

Propel SSP. Santrol says its new technology can deliver proppant further into the fracture network than anything else on the market and increase production as a result. Called Propel Self-Suspending Proppant (SSP), it uses a polymer coating between 1 and 3 microns thick that can be applied to a conventional proppant, such as sand or ceramics. Once hydrated, the polymer forms a layer of hydrogel around the proppant, which alters its specific gravity.

Santrol says the hydrogel that causes the proppant to be suspended in water allows it to be placed deeper into the fracture network by reducing buildup and deposits along the lateral sections and shallow fractures. Conventional chemical breakers can be used to dissolve the hydrogel and allow it to flow back to the surface, leaving the proppant in place. The company believes the new technology outperforms slickwater because it eliminates the need to conduct supplemental water sweeps or the injection of viscosities. Propel SSP can function in temperatures ranging from 35° F to 380° F and, because it has significantly lower viscosity compared with conventional cross-linked gel systems, it reduces the pumping horsepower required for the job.

Shadow Frac Plugs. Baker Hughes unveiled its new Shadow Frac Plugs that make perf-and-plug jobs an interventionless operation. Using wireline, a Shadow Frac Plug is set inside a horizontal well in the same manner that a conventional composite plug would be. After the perforations are made and the rock has been fractured, the plugs remain in place. Baker Hughes’ IN-Tallic frac balls then disintegrate in the well as production begins, eventually leaving an unobstructed pathway to maximize production. The ball, made of controlled electrolytic metallic nano-constructed material, dissolves over a 10- to 20-day period, depending on hydrocarbon makeup and temperatures.

This technology is specifically designed for unconventional horizontal wells and can save an operator around USD 150,000 per well by eliminating the use of a coiled tubing unit to mill through conventional composite plugs, an operation the company says can take 3 days or longer to complete. Baker Hughes reports that in the last year more than 250,000 conventional plugs were set in horizontal wells in North America, and operators spent more than 30,000 combined days of work milling those plugs out to start production. Another added benefit is that this technology allows operators to extend their lateral sections to 9,500 ft (2896 m). Current coiled tube technology is typically only able to reach 6,000 ft (1829 m) into a lateral section, limiting an operator’s ability to mill out plugs set further inside a well.

MS Recon. Schlumberger launched its new microseismic surface acquisition system, the MS Recon. The system uses a geophone accelerometer and ultra-low noise electronics to produce a wide range of seismic data input. The system is designed to detect small microseismic signals during hydraulic fracturing from surface and near surface locations. The company says that the new system enables operators to detect more microseismic “events” than other systems. Data is collected using GPS-equipped wireless nodes that transmit data in real time to an operations center where the data is processed and interpreted.

The new system was tested side-by-side with a conventional system during a hydraulic fracturing operation in a horizontal well in Texas. Schlumberger said the test data showed that the MS Recon generated a signal-to-noise ratio twice that of the conventional system.

Trent Jacobs is a Technology Writer for the Journal of Petroleum Technology.