Going beyond conventional approaches to fracking

Houston, May 25, 2014

Drawing on its growing global resources and the expertise of leading researchers, scientists and oil and gas service company experts, Saudi Aramco recently hosted a workshop to discuss the latest challenges and developments in the field of hydraulic fracturing.

A new team within the Aramco Research Center in Houston, USA, has been created to keep Saudi Aramco ahead of the development of production tools and techniques on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). The team supports the Production Technology of Saudi Aramco’s EXPEC Advanced Research Center (EXPEC ARC) by monitoring the latest advances in North America and conducting additional research and development.

Aramco Services Co. (ASC) Research and Development recently hosted a workshop titled “Hydraulic Fracturing: Going Beyond Conventional Approaches and Techniques” in which it invited leading researchers, scientists and oil and gas service company experts to discuss the challenges associated with the current fracturing techniques. This included the state-of-the-art technologies in fracturing mechanics and fluids chemistries.

The workshop served as the basis for inviting proposals and collaborative partnerships on the subject of hydraulic fracturing that will be conducted primarily from the Houston R&D center.

“Our workshop shared Saudi Aramco’s challenges, which are also the challenges of the greater industry,” said Mustafa Al-Ali, director of ASC Research & Development. “We are investing for the long-term and are riding the technology development curve to create new and novel fracturing approaches while seeking shorter term, interim solutions.”

For Saudi Arabia, a current business focus is tight sand, tight carbonate and shale gas recovery. With strong indications of substantial shale and tight gas deposits, Saudi Aramco is currently exploring and appraising several prospects for unconventional gas within the Kingdom. The Unconventional Gas Initiative will contribute to the Kingdom’s growing domestic energy mix as the economy diversifies and new growth industries are developed.

There is a vast knowledge base in North America where unconventional oil and gas plays first became commercially viable. Hydraulic fracturing, or the fracturing of rock by a pressurized fluid, is a process that helps to stimulate or extract oil or gas from shale or tight sands because of low permeability.

Usually, the injected fluid is composed of a mixture of water, proppants (a solid material such as sand or a man-made ceramic material) and chemicals. While the concept sounds simple and has existed since the first experimental fracturing occurred in the USA  in 1947, it has its complexities.

The fracturing process is obviously attractive because it allows for more recovery of oil or gas trapped within porous rock. However, it does raise environmental considerations in regard to water and chemicals usage. In recent years, techniques have become more sophisticated, and material choices have increased as multidisciplinary teams of upstream experts from around the world are addressing hydraulic fracturing challenges.

The R&D team based in Houston, along with industry, academic collaboration and Saudi Aramco’s global R&D network, will be adding to the hydraulic fracturing learning curve with innovative thinking and the creation of new technologies that will bring about a step-change in the industry.

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