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What Technology Means

November 18, 2011

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Technology, by nature, is evolutionary. Innovation is the science of faster, stronger, more efficient, more convenient, and ultimately better. It’s not just for cell phones or gaming systems, tablets or music devices, it is all encompassing. And it’s not just something that one company, like Apple, is really great at; this way of thinking is woven into the fabric of our lives.

If you had a time machine whereby you could transport yourself to the fifties and were charged with the task of explaining what life in 2011, 61 years later (or a blip on the timeline of human existence), would look like it would be nearly impossible.

Think about it. How would you articulate, to a group of people with no prior exposure, what a computer is? an e-reader? a smart phone? an app? wireless everything? the internet? satellites? medical technology, HDTV? pilotless jets that fly at Mach 10?

Without any prior exposure, this would prove difficult. They may grasp what you were saying conceptually, but realistically they would have nothing to build on in order to imagine laptops, Kindles, iPhones, Yelp!, iClouds, Mozilla FireFox, titanium knee caps, or television so clear you can see the nose hair of Tom Brady…and it’s there, by the way.

Technological advancement hasn’t only grown in civilian applications. The advancements in cleaning practices and sterility of the food industry has caused problems like E Coli & Salmonella to be notable exceptions rather than widespread problems. Milkmaids have been replaced by machines. Factory injuries have dwindled. Stock Trading is not solely for brokers anymore. Global news is available on any news page on the web.

The Oil and Gas Industry is not exempt from this technological momentum. It is very much effected by it. Early wooden derricks have been replaced with state of the art rigs, including those metropolis-esque off-shore rigs that look like space ships at night and land rigs that look equally Martian.

Where we used to have to dig into the ground with shovels and carry the oil up by buckets and pulleys, we can now bring platforms out into the middle of the ocean and drill into the sea floor with thousands of feet of water in between.

Technology is advancing in Hydraulic Fracturing as a collective industry because it does not exist in a vacuum. If you look at every and any place on earth, man’s analytical mind is present and there is always someone saying “We can do this better if we just do this.”

Increased demand for Natural Gas and the jobs that industry creates are strong motivators for the technological progression of Fracturing Equipment. Those in industry are working to lower emissions, decrease footprints, treat flow back water more effectively to decrease potential for contamination due to accidents…or to eliminate water flow back completely.

Let me talk about two companies (of hundreds) who are innovating as we speak.

A Calgary based company called GasFrac patented and uses a method of Hydraulic Fracturing that uses Propane Emulsion (a gel of sorts) instead of water on their Frac Jobs.

What does that mean? As reported by TreeHugger.com,

“Like water, propane gel is pumped into deep shale formations a mile or more underground, creating immense pressure that cracks rocks to free trapped natural gas bubbles. Like water, the gel also carries small particles of sand or man-made material—known as proppant—that are forced into cracks to hold them open so the gas can flow out. Unlike water, the gel does a kind of disappearing act underground. It reverts to vapor due to pressure and heat, then returns to the surface—along with the natural gas—for collection, possible reuse and ultimate resale. And also unlike water, propane does not carry back to the surface drilling chemicals, ancient seabed salts and underground radioactivity.”

This method has been used over 1,000 times already in Canada and is awaiting a patent in the Unites States. The full write-up from GasFrac can be found here.

Another write-up by the Royal Society of Chemistry can be found here.

For those Fracktivists whose largest objection is water usage and flow-back, this seems to be something supportable because it solves the alleged problems to a lot of their objections and it doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is something Fracktivists can get excited about.

This is a method of fracturing that leaves no water in the ground, nor does it bring back any of the impurities that have to be removed from waste water. It doesn’t use water to Frac and when the propane flows back with the Gas, it is recaptured for re-use. I think this is a phenomenal industry answer to many concerns of the Green Community. I believe, over the life cycle of the well, this will also save the industry money by reducing costs for water, water treatment, drivers, road repairs, and concerns by environmentalists on these issues. Instead of Frac bans, this could be the method used in States that are heavily opposed to Frac’ing with water. It could be a compromise where both benefit.

Although I do not agree with Climate Scientists or Al Gore, who claim man-made emissions will be the end of the earth because I think they are unyielding and unwilling to field criticisms by skeptics, I do believe that Industry is willing to address their concerns and increase their profitability at the same time.

At the SPE ATCE 2011 in Denver, I spoke to two gentleman from a company called Greenfield Energy Services. They told me about a pump(s) that they are working on that utilizes methane recapture instead of diesel fuel.

They also mount more than one pump on a trailer.

What does this mean? and what are their incentives to do so?

Pumps use diesel to run, lots of diesel, at extreme expenses. Methane capture allows methane that could have been flared/vented to be captured, scrubbed and then used to run the pumps. Not only does that cut down on the emissions by using methane instead of diesel, it cuts down on the cost of running the pumps. Multiple pumps on a trailer decreases the size of the footprint on a site.

This is a win, win situation. Frac’ing companies decrease their costs, footprints, and emissions while Greens can cheer.

These are only some of the ways that industry is progressing and they are not going to stop doing so.

Rest assured, their equipment will only get more efficient and more cost effective because it is good for business. Not having to spend tons of money on diesel while lowering emissions can make everyone happy. Not having to deal with water flowback can be celebrated. Cutting down on road wear by removing the need for water trucks to bring water to and from job sites and reducing waste pumped into waste pits is also something that could bring cheers.

The key for Fracktivists is to be progressive because Industry is progressive. We work to lower emissions, spend money on renewable energy, and give back to the community.

If this life is a film, this is only a few frames. It is important to look at where we’ve been to understand where we are going and where we can improve to improve the state of our country.

This means new jobs, new money, decreased dependence on foreign fuels, and and a place where progressive conversations can happen because of innovation.

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