Frac’ing revolution demands more of downhole composites



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An unprecedented US onshore energy boom during the past decade has brought the country to near fossil-fuel energy independence. Credit goes to a technology called hydraulic fracturing, often termed “fracking” or, more correctly, “frac’ing.” As the name implies, the process artificially fractures low-permeability rock strata with explosives and then injects pressurized, sand-laced solutions into those fractures to facilitate oil and natural gas extraction. According to the Society of Petroleum Engineers  (SPE, Richardson, TX, US), 60 percent of all new oil & gas wells globally are frac’ed, and 2.5 million frac’ing procedures have occurred since 2012 — more than 1 million of them in the US alone.

A single wellbore requires 10-40 multi-part, consumable tools called “frac plugs” (and accompanying “frac balls”) to pressurize and perforate multiple oil- or gas-producing layers, called “stages.”

Demand for these downhole parts exceeds 20,000 units per week, or more than 1 million units annually, according to one oilfield composites expert. Demand is high for these critical parts, which typically are made with composites because the composite is relatively easy to drill through at the end of the frac’ing operation, to make room for completion equipment.

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