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Liquified Petroleum Gas Fracturing-Will It Replace Hydraulic Fracturing?

Posted: July 29, 2012

A comparison of slickwater-based fracturing and liquified petroleum gas fracturing

Recently there has been several media releases on the use of liquified petroleum gas(LPG) fracturing and how this emerging technology may be used in place of high volume, high pressure slickwater-based fracturing, which is being commonly used for shale gas development.  The obvious advantage to use of LPG fracturing is that gelled propane would replace the use of water, thereby reducing fresh water use and the associated environmental concerns.  A perhaps less obvious advantage is the propane that is injected into the formation can be recovered and reused, therefore eliminating the need to treat or dispose of large volumes of wastewater that may have high concentrations of naturally occurring salts, metals, radionuclides and other constituents commonly found in shale reservoirs. 

Additionally the injection of a hydrocarbon into the shale creates less “damage” as compared to water, which may impede hydrocarbon flow, therefore LPG fracturing has the potential to increase well production.  While there are a variety of potential benefits to using LPG fracturing for shale energy development, there may be some potential disadvantages, such as increased costs for conducting the fracturing treatment, increased explosion hazards, and limited capacity to utilize this technology on a wide commercial basis.  One advantage water-based fracturing technologies have is that water is virtually incompressible, therefore the pressure is transferred more directly to fracture the shale more effectively, whereas LPG may require more surface pressure to exert the necessary downhole pressure. 

LPG fracturing is a promising technology that may become more common as advancements in its use occur and has the potential to reduce water use and increase well yields.

written by David Yoxtheimer, P.G., Extension Associate
Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research