This article, written by JPT Technology Editor Chris Carpenter, contains highlights of paper SPE 201450, “Reducing the Volume of Water Needed For Hydraulic Fracturing by Using Natural-Gas-Foamed Stimulation Fluid,” by Raj Malpani, SPE, Chris Daeffler, and Sandeep Verma, SPE, Schlumberger, et al., prepared for the 2020 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, originally scheduled to be held in Denver, Colorado, 5–7 October. The paper has not been peer reviewed.

Using natural-gas (NG) -foam fracturing fluids reduces the enormous water requirements for stimulation by as much as 60 to 80% and poses benefits for productivity in water-sensitive formations. The study outlined in the complete paper aims to characterize hydraulic-fracture geometry and quantify the expected production when using an NG-foam fracturing fluid. Using validated models, the authors provide a comparative analysis to determine the advantages of using NG foams relative to conventionally used slickwater, linear gel, and crosslinked fluid.

NG-Foam Fluids

Although foamed fluids were first used in the 1960s, the use of nitrogen (N2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) foams has not been widely practiced because of cost, complexity, and unproven production benefits. The use of NG-foam fracturing fluid is not widespread either, but this study attempts to identify specific regions and reservoirs where the use of these fluids may lead to economic and long-term production benefits. The authors write that using NG foams is likely to provide long-term sustainable benefits in areas where water procurement and disposal costs are high, where natural gas may be available from a central processing facility through pipelines, and where the reservoir is relatively shallow and contains clay-bearing minerals.

This work is inspired by a program sponsored by the US Department of Energy to investigate NG as an alternative to N2 and CO2 in foamed fracturing fluids. Initially, the project focused on identifying a thermodynamic path-way to use NG obtained from producing wells and processing plants. The study later extended into laboratory-scale experiments to measure NG-foam-fluid rheology, which was found to be comparable to foams based on N2 and CO2.

The first step in the work flow is to build a static geological model to capture the reservoir description. The subsequent step is to use the rock characterization to simulate the induced hydraulic fractures. The hydraulic-fracture simulator also predicts the proppant distribution and its conductivity and treating pressure. The simulated treating pressure is matched with observed pressure during stimulation treatment to calibrate the hydraulic-fracture model.

The hydraulic fractures are then gridded in the static geological model to generate the reservoir model for flow modeling. This is a critical step in the process because the static model is linked to the dynamic simulator without losing the details of the hydraulic fractures. The reservoir simulator is used to match the historical production performance to calibrate the reservoir model and forecast future production profiles. This hydraulic-fracture modeling, followed by the flow-modeling process, is repeated for various pumping schedules and recipes to perform a sensitivity analysis, which is detailed in the complete paper.

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