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Cheaper and environmentally-safe: Is this the future of Polish shale?


Blue Gas Competition - Supporting development of new technologies for shale gas extraction.


The second Blue Gas Competition results are in and this year only a handful of projects were deemed promising enough to secure financing. It’s exciting news for those working on the projects as well as for the Polish shale gas industry.


Among the projects receiving over 50mln PLN in combined financing from the Blue Gas competition is DIOX4SHELL. This particular project focuses on using liquid CO2 (but in a completely different way to the one some companies use when utilising liquid CO2 for gas extraction) instead of water and chemicals for hydraulic fracturing. PGNiG is the project leader and the research is being done by academics from WAT, AGH and PW (Military University of Technology, AGH University of Science and Technology and Warsaw University of Technology). Researchers from WAT patented their designs two years ago and titled their project: “Development of guidelines for design of innovative technology of shale gas recovery with the use of liquid CO2 on the base of numerical and experimental research –DIOX4SHELL”. After independent experts (five in each case, at least two of whom had to be from overseas) evaluated each of the qualified projects, DIOX4SHELL was awarded 92.5 points out of 100.



The future of shale extraction?


Dr Danuta Miedzinska from WAT is one of the leading researchers on the project and, in preview of the next year’s CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE SHALE GAS AND OIL SUMMIT (9th and 10th March) in Warsaw at which she, professor Niezgoda and their team of researchers will represent their work, she spoke on the details regarding DIOX4SHELL.


It’s surprising that this project has not been picked up by any media in Poland yet as it appears to be a technological breakthrough for the industry – both, from the operational and environmental perspective. The techniques used right now are far from perfect in either case, while this method is environmentally safe, does not require the use of water and added chemicals, and carries no risk of causing local earthquakes.


It would also be cheaper from the current method and extract four times more methane, as the DIOX4SHELL system was designed to work with the quirks of the Polish shale rock, rather than against them, as it has been so far.


This is wonderful news since, after the initial influx of investment in Poland, things have slowed down due to the challenging geology and political hiccups.


Out of 14 companies, which performed at least one exploratory drill in Poland, 5 are now gone. Apparently the results of their explorations were much worse than expected. Dorota Gajewska, press spokesperson for PGNiG told ‘Rzeczpospolita’ that those first wells showed that searching for shale gas in Poland is a geological and technical challenge.


To make matters worse, the Polish legal framework regarding hydrocarbon exploration and extraction was prohibitive for investors and many decided that Poland was simply not worth the effort.

But now, the new hydrocarbon bill is supposed to fix the legal situation, making life much easier for investors, while innovations like the ones financed by the Blue Gas competition should help with the geological challenges.



The method


After long research by the WAT team, the method developed is designed to extract shale gas and combine it with underground storing of CO2. According to Dr Miedzi?ska: “It differs immensely from the ones currently used by some companies. They use CO2 instead of water, so their fracking is simply pumping huge amounts of liquid, under high pressure, down towards the deposits, which causes fractures and through that a higher permeability of rocks, which leads to the extraction of gas. Unfortunately, with this method we also extract back the CO2.”


What the designed method involves is introducing “CO2 into the deposits as supercritical fluid – an incredibly cold liquid but under low pressure, with low viscosity and high mobility of molecules. This liquid, due to the temperature in the deposit (above 100 degrees Celsius) expands and causes fracturing. So we’re using a different physical process. We’re also planning to use this process not in one well but in several horizontal wells, which will increase its effectiveness.”


“Another phenomenon that works in our favour is the process of preferential adsorbtion of CO2 towards CH4 in the Polish shale. What it means is that normally most of the shale gas is adsorbed - or “attached” - to the porous surface of shale rock, but CO2 is able to “rip off” the methane particles and replace them – thus, we have a safe process of storing CO2 and increase, as much as by a factor of four the amount of extracted methane.”



The wait


This particular project should develop the required technology within the next two years (their work starts in December). The team of DIOX4SHELL researchers plan on solving all construction problems so that the method would available to be used in real conditions after those two years.


Their project, research and tested theories have proven so promising that they earned them the funding. However, as wonderful as it is that this new technology to reduce the costs and the controversy is in the making, for the investors, operators and the government it means another two years of waiting, while they struggle to extract viable amounts of shale gas by using the current methods.



Investing in innovation


It’s interesting to see how much the Polish government hopes to develop the shale gas sector. The financing differs for each Blue Gas project but the main aim of the programme is the development of technologies related to shale gas extraction and their implementation as well as encouraging entrepreneurs to invest in the R&D activities.


Research and development like this is crucial to the success of the shale gas industry in Poland reducing costs and attracting further investment. And if DIOX4SHELL is all it’s aiming to become – it could change the way shale gas is extracted not only in Poland, but also internationally.



Blue Gas Background


To those unfamiliar with the Blue Gas competition, here is some background (quoted from NCBR and ARP websites):


“The programme is a joint undertaking of National Centre for Research and Development (NCBR) and Industrial Development Agency (ARP S.A.) and it is focused on supporting integrated large R&D projects, testing results in pilot scale and commercialization of innovative technologies in the area of shale gas extraction.”


The applications come from research-industrial consortia and they need to meet certain criteria: they have to design innovative technology related to shale gas extraction; which has to be tested in real conditions; and the project leader has to be an entrepreneur interested in implementation of the technology elaborated within the project.


(By Zuzanna Marchant - Zuzanna.Marchant@CharlesMaxwell.co.uk)