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Natural gas and technology

Our industry has been aware for decades that natural gas has been locked in shale and tight gas formations. The key has been finding and developing the advanced technologies to unlock these resources so they can be commercially viable.

Hydraulic fracturing
Unconventional gas resources such as shale are now being accessed using a process called hydraulic fracturing. This technique involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and a small amount of other additives into the well. The pressurized hydraulic fluid does the hard work of creating hairline cracks in the shale. These cracks, held open by the sand particles, allow the gas to flow up through the wellbore to the surface.

Hydraulic fracturing is not new. It was first used in conventional oil and gas extraction in the late 1940s in North America.  Since then, more than one million wells around the world have been drilled using hydraulic fracturing. In Alberta, it has been used for more than 60 years to safely and reliably fracture over 167,000 wells.
What is new, however, is the use of multiple technologies in conjunction with one another to make accessing unconventional gas more feasible. By combining hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling, operators can safely produce affordable, reliable quantities of natural gas from shale and other unconventional sources.

Hydraulic fracturing fluids
Fracturing fluids are used to help create the tiny cracks in the rock to allow the gas to flow. These fluids typically consist of about 90 percent water and 9.5 percent sand. Many of the ingredients in the remaining 0.5 percent of the mixture have common consumer applications in household products, detergents and cosmetics. These chemicals are used to reduce friction, prevent bacteria growth and protect the rock formation, making the hydraulic fracturing safer and more efficient.

Additive Chemical Ingredient Purpose Common use of chemical ingredient
Acid Hydrochloric acid or muriatic Acid Helps dissolve minerals and initiate cracks in rocks Swimming pool chemical and cleaner
Antibacterial agent Glutaralhehyde Eliminates bacteria in water that produces corrosive by-products Disinfectant; sterilizer for medical and dental equipment
Breaker Ammonium persulfate Allows a delayed breakdown of the gel Used in hair colouring, as a disinfectant, and in the manufacturing of common household plastics
Corrosion inhibitor Formamide Prevents corrosion of the well casing Used in pharmaceuticals, acrylic fibres and plastics
Crosslinker Borate salts Maintains fluid viscosity as temperatures increase Used in laundry detergents, hand soaps and cosmetics
Friction reducer Petroleum distillate “Slicks” the water to minimize friction Used in cosmetics including hair, make-up, nail and skin products
Gel Guar gum or hydroxyethyl cellulose Thickens the water in order to suspend the sand Thickener used in cosmetics, baked goods, ice cream, toothpaste, sauces and salad dressings
Iron Control Citric acid Prevents precipitation of metal oxides Food additive; food and beverages; lemon juice ~ 7% citric acid
Clay stabilizer Potassium chloride Creates a brine carrier fluid that prohibits fluid interaction with formation clays Used in low-sodium table salt substitutes, medicines and IV fluids
pH adjusting agent Sodium or potassium carbonate Maintains the effectiveness of other components, such as crosslinkers Used in laundry detergents, soap, water softener and dishwasher detergents
Proppant Silica, quartz sand Allows fractures to remain open so the gas can escape Drinking water filtration, play sand, concrete and brick mortar
Scale inhibitor Ethylene glycol Prevents scale deposits in pipe Used in household cleansers, de-icer, paints and caulk
Surfactant Isopropanol Used to reduce the surface tension of the fracturing fluids, to improve liquid recovery from the well after the frac Used in glass cleaner, multi-surface cleansers, anti-perspirant, deodorants and hair colour
Water Water Used to expand the fracture and deliver proppant (sand) Landscaping, manufacturing