Houston-based eCORP Stimulation Technologies LLC claims to have successfully tested a waterless hydraulic fracturing (fracking) fluid consisting solely of propane in Frio County, TX, in the Eagle Ford Shale. The test simulated conditions in the shale play at 5,950 feet, the company said.

While the use of propane as a fracking fluid is not patentable in and of itself, eCORP CEO John Thrash said the breakthrough was the perfection of a process that enables propane to function as a fracking fluid. “We believe that the our perfection of this process could be commercialized within a year,” Thrash told NGI’s Shale Daily.

The CEO said that with some modifications he thinks the method might work in other formations. “There’s injection and design issues that are unique to each reservoir setting. I think the process can work without the use of additives — not everywhere, but in a wide variety of settings.”

The large amounts of water consumed by fracking fluids is a drawback, something that many industry leaders are working to rectify (see related story and NGI, Oct. 1, 2012). According to the Congressional Research Service, the energy sector has been the fastest growing water consumer in the United States in recent years and is projected to account for 85% of the growth in domestic water consumption between 2005 and 2030.

In addition to the environmental benefits of not using water, Thrash noted that a “huge fraction of the fracking cost is the water handling.” eCORP hasn’t set a price on its new offering, but he said it would be cost competitive with traditional water-based systems because propane is recyclable.

Calgary-based GasFrac Energy Services Inc. markets a waterless propane gas fracking fluid, which has been used by more than 50 customers, including Royal Dutch Shell plc, Husky Energy Inc. and BlackBrush Oil and Gas LP. However, the high costs initially to use propane versus water– and obstacles to market entry — led to a net loss in 3Q2012 of C$7.1 million (minus 11 cents/share). The company now is restructuring after its CEO and COO resigned last September; an operational review is ongoing (see NGI, Aug. 13, 2012).

GasFrac’s fluid contains additives, while eCORP claims to use pure propane. “At ambient temperatures and normal pressure propane immediately turns into a gas,” Thrash said. This quality makes propane benign in the case of a spill, he added.

Water-based fracking fluids remain predominant in the industry, and Thrash doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon. “I think it’ll be a long time before we have a large market share because you’ve got something that works in the U.S.,” Thrash said, referring to water-based fluids. He thinks the company can gain market share faster internationally because conventional fracking methods are less entrenched outside of North America. This strategy also has been pursued by GasFrac.

eCORP scrapped its plan to perform waterless fracking in New York last year to avoid the de facto fracking moratorium (see NGI, May 7, 2012; April 2, 2012). It was hoped at the time that by using GrasFrac’s fracking fluid, eCORP would be able to overcome the unconventional drilling ban, but the initiative never advanced to a point where that theory was tested (see related story).

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