March 6, 2014

Q+A with Arash Dahi Taleghani, assistant professor, Craft & Hawkins Department of Petroleum Engineering

1. There have been conflicting reports about fracking and how it works; could you explain the process in layman’s terms?

Sure. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing to be more precise, is the process of inducing a crack or conduit for hydrocarbon flow in the Earth’s subsurface. Hydrocarbons, which we use to produce both petroleum and natural gas, are stored in the pores of the rocks, and you can improve production from low permeability formations by cracking these rocks.

2. What is the biggest misconception about fracking?

People believe that fracking may cause earthquakes or contaminate water sources, but those claims are misleading. Only in very specific locations and under rare circumstances might you see these problems. Like any engineering practice, if you don’t follow details or ignore safety protocols, accidents can occur. You shouldn’t forget that natural gas can enable the US to become energy independent thanks to extensive fracturing treatments in recent years.

3. You and Dr. Juan Lorenzo, associate professor of geology & geophysics, recently received funding to simulate real fracturing treatments through the establishment of a hydraulics fracturing lab, the first of its kind at LSU. What is the significance of this lab and the research you will be conducting on LSU’s campus?

This lab will provide an ideal environment for us to implement hydraulic fracturing tests without surrounding noise and geological uncertainties. These tests will help us understand the physics behind hydraulic fracturing interactions with natural fractures, and how these interactions may affect seismic waves recorded by the geophones we use to convert ground movement into voltage. This research will help us explore techniques to identify the type and order of interactions between hydraulic fractures and pre-existing natural fractures in the subsurface.

4. You and your colleagues are working to develop environmentally safe and economically efficient hydraulic fracturing methods. What specific environmental concerns will your research address? Will the simulations in the lab work to reconcile environmental and economic concerns?

Hydraulic fracturing could play an essential role in boosting state oil and gas production in Louisiana. The Haynesville and Tuscaloosa Marine shales hold large natural gas reserves, and their extraction will require hydraulic fracturing to achieve economic production. We are focused on developing methods to better describe fracture extension, which is crucial to address environmental concerns. We are also conducting other types of research, like wellbore integrity, which are essential to practice safe fracturing treatments.

5. Seismic activity has been linked to fracking, but it can also triggered by a wide range of factors. Will your research investigate the impact and presence of other variables that may contribute to seismic activity where fracking is conducted within a laboratory setting?

We are essentially interested in microseismic events, not seismic hazards. Microseismic events occur in much lower frequencies and energy bands, so they cannot be felt by humans. However, we use this information to estimate fracture dimensions in the subsurface. Knowing the dimension of fractures would help us to forecast production and more importantly to avoid fracturing into shallow aquifers.

6. What will LSU’s petroleum engineering students experience from this unique lab and contemporary research?

This lab is essentially designed for conducting research, however, attracting more investments would enable us to develop it into a teaching lab and incorporate it into our current senior elective course, Unconventional Reservoirs.

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Article by Liz Lebron, LSU College of Engineering communications graduate assistant. For more information, contact Mimi LaValle, College of Engineering, mlavall@lsu.edu or (225) 578-5706.



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