Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of pumping water, sand, and other chemicals under high pressure into the ground to break apart rock and release the natural gas contained. By 2013, there were over two million oil and gas wells that had been hydraulically fractured in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy (DOE). It’s estimated that about 95% of all new wells are drilled under these conditions.
According to British technology website The Register, new research from the University of Virginia led by Andres Clarens is looking at the possibility of replacing water with CO2 at fracking sites. The idea is that CO2 would act as a carbon sequestration, making fracking that much more efficient and sustainable.
“We are working to develop a fundamental understanding of how interfacial properties at the gas-brine interface and at the gas-brine-mineral interface could impact buoyancy-driven flow through porous media,” Clarens said. “Mass transfer between gas (e.g. CO2) and brine and CO2 phase change will mitigate leakage.”
While many people still argue against the process of fracking, experts say these claims are unfounded. Colin Scott is a geologist who has worked on oil rigs and as an independent consultant in the industry for over 40 years.
“Fracking is done way lower down than aquifers and as long as the casing in the wells is well cemented, no fracking fluid can escape,” he said. “There is a way of testing the cement ‘bond’ which is foolproof and verifiable, so the worry is just not there. But as a method of CO2 disposal, it would be great.”
Unfortunately, the perception of fracking has been ingrained in a negative light in our society over the last few years. Through improvements such as this one, people like Clarens are hoping to change the narrative. He shared his thoughts with New Scientist, where his study was first reported.
“There is great potential for this technology to help improve the integrity of well bores,” Clarens said. “I think that will go a long way toward improving public perception of fracking.”