Alejandro Freixes
Dec 19, 2011

Oil and natural gas drilling can stop water fracking damage with propane

An extensive examination of the propane fracking technique developed by GasFrac leads one to believe that liquid petroleum gas (LPG) should replace water as the fracturing liquid used by the oil and natural gas drilling industry. Not only does LPG fracturing bypass the waste management nightmare of water returning to the surface with salts and radionuclides, it also yields an average of 25% higher reserve recoveries for energy companies.


Propane fracking’s only significant drawback, a risk of explosions, is dealt with by keeping workers away from the ‘hot zone’ and by using tightly calibrated machinery. Even the higher initial investment in new equipment and the required thickening of propane viscosity is a small price to pay for the economic return of greater yields and minimal waste management.

The superior value of propane fracking is slowly gaining recognition among oil and natural gas industry giants like Chevron and some of its major competitors. So, the question becomes, why now? Why has the oil and natural gas industry been so slow to take LPG seriously, especially since it has proven to be more profitable? The answer is actually quite simple. Until GasFrac entered the picture with its research and development team, nobody had figured out how to do it.

For years, propane had been recognized as theoretically superior to water. However, no one had devised a means of gelling propane or warding against its potential safety issues. As Dwight Loree, the CEO of GasFrac says, “When you gel water, it ends up looking like Jell-O; we needed to create the same properties with propane. We developed and designed our own equipment to do the gel testing because nobody had done this with propane before. We had to find the right molecules.”  Two years of mechanical and molecular experimentation focused on propane gelling resulted in an industry-first discovery of how to complete the gelling process.  

In looking at the history of fracking and why water was used for so very long, Dwight Loree says, “The fracing business started about 1950 and shortly thereafter began using water as a main fracturing proppant carrier. Today, nearly 60 years later, the industry is still using water. However, the type of reservoirs we are completing today have changed dramatically since then — we are into very tight reservoirs, shale gas, unconventional gas and, in reality, water is no longer a suitable fluid for developing these reserves.” In other words, because of the modern focus on energy sources that are uniquely difficult to extract, the limitations of water fracking have truly risen to the surface in ways that were less noticeable in less exotic reserves.

The efficacy of GasFrac’s technique is especially apparent in these notoriously problematic tight reservoirs. Drilling companies can see a yield increase of up to 35% when they use LPG and it returns to the surface as reusable gas rather than unusable and hard to remove water. Dwight Loree explains, “Water and oil create a lot of problems in the reservoir. When a well is fractured the process puts thousands and thousands of pounds pressure on the face of the reservoir rock. That extremely high pressure forces the frac fluid into the micro pores, while the reservoir only has a fraction of that pressure to push it back out.” However, when propane was used instead of water on a tight reservoir, Dwight Loree says,  “We fractured the well with propane and got 90 cubic metres of frac oil back along with all the propane within 20 hours. It turned out to be the best well in the field.”

Likewise, industry safety procedures and technologies were very outdated. GasFrac felt that the industry was decades behind in this regard and decided to engineer the necessary tools. Besides keeping personnel away from the ‘hot zone,’ the equipment and system developed by GasFrac can electronically monitor propane volume, manage potential leaks and is, as Dwight Loree explains, “configured to shut down smart.”

Given recent negative news coverage of water fracking in major publications like CNN [EPA sounds alarm on fracking in Wyoming] and the LA Times [Something about fracking smells funny], the positive news that propane fracking offers should soon be entering mainstream awareness. The vanguard innovator, GasFac, is thus poised to become a dominant force in the oil and natural gas drilling industry. Both the natural environment surrounding fracking sites and the profit margins of energy companies will benefit as a result.

Would it be even more ideal to avoid fracking altogether and power our society exclusively with sustainable energies like wind and solar power? Undoubtedly. However, while green technology research and development continues evolving alternative energy in the coming decades, our present need for oil and natural gas demands innovation that works right now. The oil and natural gas industry should be more serious in studying and evaluating the technology of gas fracking to see if it is indeed the superior substitute for water fracking. Should extensive trials confirm its efficacy, propane fracking would unleash the substantial reserves of oil and natural gas in the United States, not to mention those as yet untapped worldwide.

Propane fracking’s ability to unlock tight reservoirs without the environmental woes of water fracking’s lengthy waste management demands a serious consideration by energy companies.