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Environment & Energy

Frackers in the Utica Shale get a Production Boost from Ceramic Beads

ceramic beads proppant

Even as the region’s natural gas boom is driven toward bust by depressed world energy markets, drillers have had a production breakthrough at a Utica Shale well. 

Fracking forces apart rock layers. And a ‘proppant’ in the fracking fluid, usually sand, keeps the cracks open.  But for deep wells, as in the Utica Shale, the weight of 2 miles of earth can squash sand grains and limit output.  For a new well in Pennsylvania, drillers used man-made, ceramic beads that won’t crush. The well ‘came in’ last week with record production. 

Dr. Robert Chase
Robert Chase

But, there is fluid-flow back after fracking; if it includes ceramic beads, does that create an environmental issue?  Bob Chase, emeritus professor at Marietta College, doesn’t think so. 

“You get that flow-back and you will get some of that propant coming back.  But sand, obviously, is just sand.  And the ceramic proppant is a silicone material made stronger than sand by baking it. But there are no disposal issues associated with the propant.”

Chase says ceramic beads have been used for years in deep-well areas.