Carbon dioxide will not likely replace water in fracking anytime soon because of technical challenges and limited infrastructure, GE says.
NISKAYUNA, New York, April 7 (Reuters) - Carbon dioxide, used for years to force crude oil out of old wells, likely will not replace water in fracking anytime soon because of technical challenges and limited infrastructure, says General Electric Co , which is studying the issue under a $10 billion research program.
The delay means energy companies will continue to use more than 2 million gallons of water for each fracked well, equal to baths for some 40,000 people, stressing water supplies in arid American states and likely delaying fracking's expansion to western China and other water-stressed regions.
GE, which is making a push into oilfield technology, is studying how a chilled form of CO2 known as a "super-critical fluid" - neither a liquid nor a solid - could be used as the new industry standard for hydraulic fracturing, the process commonly known as fracking.
The conglomerate is working on the project with Statoil ASA , the Norwegian oil and gas producer, as part of its ecomagination program, which also is focusing on gas turbine efficiency, wind blade design and other energy projects.
"Our ultimate vision is to have a fracking process that uses no water, but we're a ways off from that," Andrew Gorton, a GE mechanical engineer leading the project, said during a tour of the company's research facilities in upstate New York.
The hydraulic fracturing of rock, or fracking, has allowed the global energy industry to access vast new supplies of oil and gas. Fracking opponents see a range of potential environmental damage from the process but are cautiously optimistic that using CO2 instead of water could reduce those risks.
CO2 fracking was used on a small scale in the 1990s by the company Canadian FracMaster before it filed for bankruptcy protection. Engineers say they want to figure out how to widely replicate the process across many different geologies.
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