Nitrogen (N2) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) foams have been used as hydraulic fracturing fluids for several decades to reduce water usage and minimize damage in water-sensitive reservoirs. These foam treatments require gases to be liquefied and transported to site. An alternative approach would be to use natural gas (NG) that is readily available from nearby wells, pipelines, and processing facilities as the internal, gaseous phase to create a NG-based foam. Hydraulic fracturing with NG foam is a relatively inexpensive option, makes use of an abundant and often wasted resource, and may even provide production benefits in certain reservoirs. As part of an ongoing development project sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE), the surface process to create NG foam is being developed and the properties of NG foam are being explored. This paper presents recent results from a rigorous pilot-scale demonstration of NG foam over a range of operating scenarios relevant to surface and bottomhole conditions with a variety of base-fluid mixtures.
The Pilot-scale Foam Test Facility (PFTF) used in these investigations is first described. The PFTF is capable of generating foamed fluids at pressures up to 7,500 psig and at temperatures in excess of 300°F. Then, results from several investigations aimed at proving NG foam at conditions relevant to the field are presented. NG foam was characterized using rheology measurements and flow visualization techniques. Experiments were performed to investigate the texture and stability of NG foam generated by two different mixing methods: one using a custom designed tee to match mixing velocities in the field where the gas phase is jetted into the aqueous stream, and another to ensure comprehensive mixing for laboratory analysis. Parametric studies were conducted to explore the effects of flow rate, foam quality, and temperature on the stability of NG foam. Moreover, different fluid preparations were used to investigate the effect of base fluid and additive concentrations on the stability of NG foams. Additional laboratory studies that investigated foam stability with produced water and multicomponent NG mixtures are also reported.
The NG foams explored in these investigations exhibited typical, shear-thinning behavior observed in rheological studies of N2- and CO2-based foams. The measured viscosity and observed stability indicate that NG foams are well suited for fracturing applications. Like other foams, NG foam exhibits sensitivity to operating temperature characterized by a decrease in apparent viscosity as temperature increases. Rapid foam breakdown was observed at significantly elevated temperatures exceeding 290°F. In addition to fluid characterization, these investigations also yielded several key lessons that should be applied to future field demonstrations of NG foam.