EU Science Hub

An overview of hydraulic fracturing and other formation stimulation technologies for shale gas production

The technology of hydraulic fracturing for hydrocarbon well stimulation is not new, but only fairly recently has become a very common and widespread technique, especially in North America, due to technological advances that have allowed extracting natural gas from so-called unconventional reservoirs (tight sands, coal beds and shale formations). The conjunction of techniques such as directional drilling, high volume fracturing, micro-seismic monitoring, etc. with the development of multi-well pads has been especially successful in the last years in their application to shales, making gas production from shales technically and economically feasible. In Europe, the potential application of this technology has led to both great worries and high expectations: worries regarding the alleged magnitude of the environmental impact, and expectations about production of indigenous hydrocarbons. Other types of formation stimulation exist that do not make use of water-based fluids (for instance, explosive fracturing, dynamic loading, etc.), or that make use of fluids other than water. These are currently not extensively applied due to performance considerations. As for any other industrial activity, the deployment of high-volume hydraulic fracturing could potentially entail some risks to the environment. Among the concerns raised are high usage of water, methane infiltration in aquifers, aquifer contamination, extended surface footprint, induced local seismicity, etc. New technologies could help addressing these concerns (for instance by using non-toxic chemicals, by reducing or eliminating altogether the usage of water, by considerably reducing the surface footprint of a well, etc.). This report reviews hydraulic fracturing and alternative fracturing technologies, by searching the open literature, patent databases and commercial websites (mainly in the English language). For each identified technique, an overview is given. The technique is then briefly explained, and its rationale (reasons for use) is identified. Potential advantages and disadvantages are identified, and some considerations on costs are given. Finally, the status of the technique (for instance, commercially applied, being developed, concept, etc.) is given for its application to shale gas production.