Future Of Fracking Could Be ‘Beaming Up’ Oil With Microwaves

(Reuters/Jim Urquhart)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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The future of hydraulic fracturing sounds a lot like science fiction.

Fracking companies could eventually “beam up” oil and natural gas from the ground using microwaves, according to news reports.

Microwave fracking would zap shale formations with a beam as powerful as 500 household microwave ovens to relaese the valuable oil or gas. Experts estimate the first microwave fracking systems could be deployed in the field by 2017 and start producing oil by the end of that year.

The new tech would have major environmental advantages over conventional methods. Disposal of wastewater from fracking is the biggest objection to the process from environmentalists, who claim getting rid of the water can contaminate the ground and potentially cause very small earthquakes.

It would cause “a whole shift in the paradigm,” Peter Kearl, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of the microwave fracking company Qmast, told “We don’t need water for our process and we don’t have wastewater to dispose of afterward.”

Microwave fracking would only be an estimated 15 to 20 percent more expensive than conventional methods, causing oil giants British Petroleum and ConocoPhillips to heavily investing in the technology.

U.S. oil reserves would also be vastly expanded. America controls the world’s largest untapped oil reserve, the Green River Formation in Colorado. This formation alone contains up to three to four trillion barrels of untapped oil shale, about half of which is probably recoverable with microwave fracking. That’s five and a half times the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia. This single geologic formation could contain more oil than the rest of the world’s proven reserves combined.

Low prices may be worse for major foreign oil producers like Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Iran than for America. These countries require the price of oil to be above $80 a barrel to balance their national budgets. Currently, the price of oil is about $48.61 per barrel, meaning that it is simply too cheap for foreign producers to effectively compete. Industry experts believe that most of the U.S.’s fracking will be profitable at around $40 a barrel. Such a set up means the price of oil will be essentially permanently locked in at prices favorable to the American fracking industry.

Fracking provided only 2 percent of all U.S. oil production in 2000, but by 2015 that had grown to 51 percent of American production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Fracking, combined with horizontal drilling, has allowed the U.S. to increase its oil production faster than at any time in history. The process helped America surpass Russia as the world’s largest and fastest-growing producer of oil last year. American oil production in 2015 was 80 percent higher than it was in 2008. The U.S. produced about 8.7 million barrels of oil per day in July, according to the most recent data available.

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