Energy companies have turned to new drilling technologies in the past decade to squeeze out the last drops of oil and gas underground. Those methods include hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that have been linked to environmental damage and the threat of causing small earthquakes.
Now a Canadian firm has developed an alternative that uses underground fluid pressure waves to scrub oil out of rock formations without breaking the rock or injecting toxic chemicals into the ground.
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The process sends a pulse of energy that changes the porosity of the geological material -- the rock, sand or clay, etc. --– surrounding the oil deposits. It then uses recycled water or carbon dioxide to flush out the oil, according to Brett Davidson, CEO of Edmonton-based Wavefront Technology.
"What we are going to do underground is mimic a garden hose," Davidson said. "You have a steady state of fluid coming out of the hose. When I put kink in the hose, I'm storing energy. When I undo the kink I get an acceleration of fluid."
Davidson said the idea came after finding out that oil companies often reported more production from their wells after earthquakes. It turns out that instead of the earthquake's initial seismic wave affecting the oil deposits, a second much slower force called a porosity dilation wave is created. This wave forces oil through the rock like a beating heart, forcing blood through the body’s veins and arteries.
Wavefront has developed several kinds of pulsing devices that are lowered into the ground to produce this slow-moving fluid wave, the choice of device depending on the kind of geological formation. The pressure wave momentarily changes the porosity of the rock or soil to push out more oil. It can also be used to clean up underground toxic waste sites, Davidson said.
A recent consultant's study found Wavefront's liquid pulse method boosted oil production by an average of 2.5 percent at five oil wells in Alberta and Saskatchewan. While that may not seem like much, boosting production from the estimated 400 billion barrels left in the ground in U.S. reserves would result in 10 billion barrels of extra oil, or enough to run the entire U.S. economy for about 526 days.
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