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January 22, 2012

Movable Sleeves could reduce the cost of oil fracking wells by up to two thirds

Business Week - Baker Hughes (BHI) and Schlumberger (SLB) are continuing their quest to devise ways to create longer, deeper cracks in the earth to release more oil and gas. These companies are no longer content to frack—they want to super frack. New techniques will make fracking over three times cheaper and other techniques will increase the speed of the processes.

The growing use of movable sleeves, a tubelike device with holes that fits inside a well bore, lets drillers target multiple spots to dislodge entrapped oil. This technique can reduce the $2.5 million startup cost of a fracking well near the Canadian border by up to two-thirds, according to a recent analysis by JPMorgan Chase.




Baker Hughes has set its sights on creating “super cracks,” a method of blasting deeper into dense rock to create wider channels. The aim of the technology, branded as DirectConnect, is to better concentrate the pressure of fracking fluids to reach oil or gas farther from the well bore, which existing methods fail to do as effectively.

The company also is trying to speed up the fracking process. Wells usually are fracked in steps, as plastic balls are dropped down to plug the well at various stages and isolate different zones for fracking. It can take days to get a drilling rig to the site and fish out conventional frack balls, which can get stuck over the course of 20 or 30 preparation phases in a typical well before production can begin. With land-based rigs renting for up to $30,000 a day, reducing such delays is critical. So Baker Hughes has developed disintegrating balls, which turn into powder “like an Alka-Seltzer” after a couple of days, says Rustom Mody, vice-president for technology.

Schlumberger, after six years of research, has developed a technique called HiWAY. The technology can generate bigger cracks in surrounding rock formations than current methods by combining fiber with typical fracking materials such as sand so the stuff clumps as it’s being pumped in repeated pulses and at high pressure into the side of a well. The number of customers using HiWAY in North America has grown from two a year ago to more than 20, Schlumberger says. Chief Executive Officer Paal Kibsgaard told investors in October that the HiWAY technology is yielding larger oil and gas production while using less water and sand than conventional fracking.

Halliburton (HAL), the No. 1 provider of fracking services, also based in Houston, is trying to reduce the amount of materials and labor used on each well. It’s rolled out RapidFrac, a series of sliding sleeves that open throughout the horizontal well bore to isolate zones for fracking. Fracking fluid is then injected at high pressure through multiple holes exposed by the sliding sleeve, cracking the surrounding rock. The process can be faster and cheaper than the most popular fracking method, which involves sending an explosive charge down the well to blast one hole at a time.

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