As public concern about hydraulic fracturing (“fracking” or “fracing”) grows and historic drought conditions parch most of the country, the limelight is focused on technologies that offer alternatives to traditional hydraulic fracturing, which uses large volumes of water. 

One of the more established technologies in this emerging market is a process that uses liquid petroleum gas (or “LPG”) gel to replace water in traditional fracking operations.  The LPG gel is composed primarily of propane or butane gas.  GasFrac Energy Services, Inc. has used its proprietary LPG gel fracking process on more than 1,000 wells in Canada and the United States.  GasFrac is expected to dramatically expand its operations in the Utica and Marcellus shale plays in the coming months and years. 

Another alternative to traditional hydraulic fracturing that operators have been testing uses carbon dioxide or nitrogen foam instead of water.  This technology, being marketed by Baker Hughes under the trade name “VaporFrac,” uses merely 10% of the water needed for traditional fracking.  Earlier this year Chesapeake reported that it fracked a well in Portage County, Ohio using carbon dioxide foam.

Finally, Chimera Energy Corporation is pioneering a new process it describes as a “revolutionary exothermic non-hydraulic extraction process.”  Although Chimera has not disclosed the details of the process, its website explains that the process relies on a chemical reaction among various metal oxides to create extreme heat and pressure to force open shale fractures and release trapped oil and gas.  The process is apparently completely waterless but is not yet known to have been used in the Utica or Marcellus shale.

Whether any of these technologies will prove to be as safe, productive, and economical as traditional water-based hydraulic fracturing remains to be seen.  But as pressure to preserve clean water resources mounts, so will pressure on the industry to find viable alternatives to traditional hydraulic fracturing.