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Non-hydraulic fracking

One of the arguments that is put forward against shale gas fracking is that it uses large quantities of water and that these are toxic. Matt Ridley put these arguments to bed in the excellent report he wrote for GWPF, but there has been a new development that may make the whole dispute redundant anyway.

A planned shale gas drilling project in New York state has drawn global attention for its aim to make use of a waterless form of hydraulic fracking – a new technique designed to reduce the pollution associated with controversial natural gas drilling processes.

According to an industry report, the project is focused on using a technology that pumps a thick gel made from propane into the ground as opposed to using traditional methods of hydraulic fracking that make use of a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals to extract natural gas reserves from deep shale formations. Unlike traditional technologies, the gel from the new liquefied propane gas (LPG) fracking method reverts to vapor while still underground, and as a result returns to the surface in a recoverable form.

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Reader Comments (43)

One of the major problems that could happen with using LPG is many steels become brittle at cold temperatures. (The same problem that affected the rivets of the Ttanic) This brittleness is well known and is one of the critical tests for selecting the appropriate metal. LPG gets very cold if uncontrolled expansion occurs. The rock might be fractured but so could the casings! .

I suspect this proposal could be just to deflate the opponents' arguments and show how specious they really can be.

May 11, 2012 at 9:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterChrisM

Quick! Somebody needs to link propane to major environmental catastrophes in the past!!

May 11, 2012 at 9:45 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Sorry ChrisM but low temperatures aren't involved here: propane liquefies at ~80 Bar at room temperature, about the same as CO2. So all you need is pressure!

May 11, 2012 at 9:45 AM | Unregistered Commentermydogsgotnonose

Don't worry. I'm sure that work is already under way (if not it will be by Monday morning) to prove that the use of propane in any form or any substance in gel form or indeed any substance in any form or no form at all will be detrimental to the structure of the earth and therefore liable to cause major earthquakes of at least 1.0 intensity (on whatever scale happens to be currently in use — I can't keep up) and must therefore be banned.*

* Correction: I've been told that nothing that might provide cheap energy and get us all out of this terrible economic mess we're in should be banned. What I meant to say was that this development is to be welcomed provided that all possible difficulties are considered, proper assessments of likely (and even unlikely) side effects are carried out and alternative options considered in depth. At length. Send money.

May 11, 2012 at 10:03 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Wonder what the Greenies will come up with to make this method as expensive as wind turbine power. "Gaslands", the fantasy, excited the ignorant with tall tales of gas escaping from fracking operations and making the toilet a place to fear. Something along those lines seems to be a first option?

May 11, 2012 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Man


I think the point is that the process of evaporation can result in extremely cold temperatures.

May 11, 2012 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterDead Dog Bounce

Dead Dog Bounce
Won't extremely cold temperatures enhance the fracturing by adding thermally induced stresses?

Sandy Sinclair

May 11, 2012 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

DDB: not important because the thermal capacity of the Earth is high wrt the thermal capacity of propane [low as it's a non polar substance].. Added to this, you have the heat input from the initial pressurisation resulting in an essentially isoentropic process with the Earth as the heat absorber/source.

May 11, 2012 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered Commentermydogsgotnonose

I'm sure the back-to-the-caves weirdos will find some excuse to stop us from getting cheap energy so as not to die of the cold in winter.

May 11, 2012 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Alex: yes, as proved by the thermochemical clutching at straws. The properties of liquid propane have been researched for refrigeration purposes also as a third stage add-on to conventional steam turbines.

Essentially, these people are being used to further Agenda 21 whose intention is to cause the West to revert to third World living standards and for the third World to be killed off by restricting power under the guise of the carbon scare.

Note that nice Mr Cameron is to be one of the three leaders of the Agenda 21 programme:

Add to his supporting letter to Gillard last July re Aussie carbon taxes and it looks like Sam wears the trousers.

May 11, 2012 at 10:43 AM | Unregistered Commentermydogsgotnonose

PLUS, isn't it already very hot from all that pressure created by the planet at the depths they will be drilling to?


May 11, 2012 at 10:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Off Topic but --- I was stunned today to hear the Thought For The Day item on BBC R4 bracket climate change deniers with wage slave factory owners, terrorists, warmongers, and groups of paedophiles, whilst pointing out that all these people are largely male.

On listen again starting 1:48:40

May 11, 2012 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterTed

heard this on whilst on the motorway to work...was apoplectic.

Thought for the day invaded by the ioian hairshirts

May 11, 2012 at 12:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

still apoplectic !
The Iona Community..

May 11, 2012 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterconfused

I reckon this would raise the price of propane and propane accessories to unsustainable levels, I tell you what.

May 11, 2012 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterHank H.

They have a lot to answer to...what with their unspoilt scenery and Scottish accents and all that!


May 11, 2012 at 12:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Cheap energy for all is the Left/Greens' worst nightmare.

They would rather gargle battery acid than let this one go through on the nod.

May 11, 2012 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

All the greens will read in that are, "blah blah blah blah blah blah 'petroleum' (evil) blah blah blah blah blah blah blah 'vapour' (poison gas).

May 11, 2012 at 1:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

They have been doing this for sometime in Alberta.



May 11, 2012 at 1:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Gorter

gasfrac share price is falling thru the floor.

May 11, 2012 at 1:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterHerve

From the article:

Deb Nardone, from the Sierra Club, said that given the risk of explosions, “it is clear that propane fracking just substitutes one set of problems for another set of even more dangerous problems.”

No data, no analysis, just confidence that the innovation is "more dangerous" ... Typical


May 11, 2012 at 2:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames

James May 11, 2012 at 2:07 PM

So putting propane in to get methane out increases the risks explosions happening, well I never realised that Methane from a gas well would be far more dangerous with a bit of propane about. Who are these people and surely only politicians can be foolish enough to believe this?

Sandy Sinclair

May 11, 2012 at 2:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

'Whatever you're doing - stop it. It'll frighten the horses...'

May 11, 2012 at 2:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Step 1. Environmentalists lie about the dangers of fracking
Step 2. Convince suckers to use Propane
Step 3. Demand the end to fracking because it uses fossil fuels.

May 11, 2012 at 2:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Unfortunately the politicians with their monumental accumulation of scientific ignorance will use any rumours of "improved technology" to further procrastinate (witness the never-to-be CCS). Like I've said many times on BH, we are drinking in the last chance saloon folks.

May 11, 2012 at 3:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterVernon E

I have done fracs before using light crude oil. It increases the risk of fire and explosion so much that it is only used in water sensitive zones. Propane would be even worse, since it would turn into a invisable gas making small leaks hard to detect. There is also the risk that a major leak would be sucked into the intakes of the diesel engines driving the pumps and cause them to run away and self-destruct in a spectacular fashion. It has happened before with natural gas leaks.

May 11, 2012 at 3:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavidCobb

This is not new guy's, the company that developed this is a Canadian company called Gasfrac they have already completed over 1200 jobs using this technique and have worked with most of the major drilling companies. So before you start finding problems that do not exist try finding out the truth.
By the way I have commented here for about four years as ChrisM and I see someone else is now using it so I have changed to avoid any confusion.

May 11, 2012 at 5:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterForester126

Let me point out the differences between doing this in Canada and Texas (UK will fall some where in-between).
1) It is really hard to frac with ice. Freezing weather causes all kinds of havoc with plumping and equipment.
2) Propane will not expand in pipes and cause ruptures at low ambient temperatures.
3) Propane will remain liquid at low ambient temperature and atmosphereic pressue allowing better leak detection and containment of leaks.

Basicly, a good idea for hard winter fraccing, but not so much at normal temps.

May 11, 2012 at 6:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavidCobb

DavidCobb You seem to be assuming they only work in the winter, Canada does get quite hot in the Summer! and if you look at the film on their website they are obviously working in the Summertime.
You are making up problems that have already been solved.

May 11, 2012 at 8:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterForester126

".... a new technique designed to reduce the pollution associated with controversial natural gas drilling processes".

This statement is nothing other than a smear. Since when did fracking regularly cause serious pollution?

May 11, 2012 at 10:11 PM | Unregistered Commentercerberus

".... a new technique designed to reduce the pollution associated with controversial natural gas drilling processes".

This statement is nothing other than a smear. Since when did fracking regularly cause serious pollution?

May 11, 2012 at 10:12 PM | Unregistered Commentercerberus

Beg pardon. No intention to post the above twice.

May 11, 2012 at 10:13 PM | Unregistered Commentercerberus

Regarding fracking and its dangers, the EPA released today results on groundwater contamination from fracking in Pennsylvania.

Bottom line: no contamination reported.

May 11, 2012 at 10:43 PM | Unregistered Commenternvw

Many of the communities in the western NY Finger Lakes region are populated by well educated people who have "walked the talk" of environmentalism. They have traded big homes in the larger towns or cities for much smaller homes or cabins; many heated by wood stoves fueled by their wood lots and "Victory gardens" are the norm. My close friends, when I lived there, traded more lucrative occupations for artist, yoga instructor, freelance musician, school teacher, inter alia. Politics range from far left to libertarian. (I was the token Republican.) They are not the same as the "eco-nuts" who live in big cities.
Currently, most of that population are strongly against 'fracking. It will be interesting to see if these changes in method will change minds. It will be a high hurdle, but we will be talking to rational folks.
By way of example, when industrial wind plants were expanding from our southern (township) border, the community, who favored wind energy, put into our town regulations a requirement that any installations must first put up a bond that covered decommissioning costs. Needless to say there are no wind turbines overlooking Canadice Lake.

May 12, 2012 at 12:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Daddis

I am discussing cost-benefit, with the risks greatly increasing the cost. If the benefits during the winter exceed the costs of the risk, then you have covered the costs of putting the engineering protocals in place making summer use more feasible.

May 12, 2012 at 4:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavidCobb

Of interest the EPA has not found evidence for groundwater contamination in Pennsylvania related to fracking.

May 12, 2012 at 6:21 AM | Unregistered Commenternvw

I've recently had an exchange of views with a Mr Shah at our beloved Department of Energy and Climate Change on the futility of wind farms, and the fact that Central Planning often overrides local, carefully considered rejections of wind farms.
To say that his response was naive, muddle-headed and inaccurate is putting it mildly ('Wind is free - so it makes sense to use it ' was typical) - I posted a polite response (with difficulty) - but it does make you worry that the official line continues to be so jaw-droppingly simplistic.
NO MENTION of shale gas in his view of our energy mix come 2020....

May 12, 2012 at 3:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid


Only a naive, muddle-headed nonentity could ever see wind as a source of power. A brief perusal of National Grid status weekly and monthly data should be enough to convince anyone this is a non-starter, so the scheme is a fraud in itself. Anyone except a politician or a bureaucrat, that is. Or maybe they can't be bothered to look at the evidence, it's too damning.

May 12, 2012 at 7:28 PM | Unregistered Commentercerberus

Not so sure about your spam-catcher. My double-post is because after 6 hours my first comment never appears, so I re-post/paraphrase.
Just saying something ain't working right (at your end).

May 13, 2012 at 7:10 AM | Unregistered Commenternvw


I know you were trying to be polite with him, but perhaps the proper response to

'Wind is free - so it makes sense to use it"

would be

"flatulence is free - so it makes sense to use it"

It's a serious point, actually -- there are a variety of "wind" sources but whether it is economical to try to capture it as useful energy for making electricity etc. is what is at issue.

May 13, 2012 at 9:08 AM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

There is probably a lot of experimenting going on which is below the radar.
Apparently tests have also been carried out with CO2 and with liquid Nitrogen.

May 13, 2012 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikeH

In the early days of fracking the New Albany Shale (Kentucky/So.Illinois), the shale was so reactive to water that a nitrogen foam was used.

May 14, 2012 at 6:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterWalt Stone

Absolutely amazing what companies will do and not tell people about just for a little profit.

Aug 21, 2013 at 3:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterTara

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