Fracking is getting a helpful boost from Halliburton (NYSE: HAL) and other companies.
Sperry Drilling, a division of Halliburton, is offering a new form of fiber-optic spy technology to help drillers get a visual sense of well formations using acoustic technology. The technology consists of stainless steel cables encased in strings of glass that vibrate when meeting sound waves. It emits acoustic measurements by way of specialized sensors to accurately depict the size and activity of formations. The sounds are then converted into light, which translates onto software ready for analysis on a laptop.
It is one of the most important tools in supporting fracking activity.
Halliburton’s particular version is called XBAT Azimuthal Sonic and Ultrasonic logging-while-drilling (LWD) service. “Logging-while-drilling” is a term used to describe data monitoring and real-time intelligence-gathering on boreholes and reserves.
But XBAT is a different breed of LWD technology, and some of its capabilities include gas detection, borehole stability, and geosteering.
Halliburton has already tested XBAT LWD over 100 times in Brunei, the Gulf of Mexico, and the North Sea, among other places.
The XBAT LWD service primarily comprises four transmitters and four azimuthal receiver arrays which can be tweaked to a broad range of frequencies to adapt underground.
Its signal-to-noise ratio emits accurate measures, even in noisy drilling atmospheres. Four ultrasonic calipers are added to deliver clearer borehole images and capture better pictures of lesser known formations.
Companies can also measure the flow of oil and decide to move on if the flow is not worth commercial production. Fiber-optics will drastically reduce wasted time in non-worthwhile spots, and the highly specialized data system will allow drillers to tweak and adjust to the unknown when fracking, reducing the chances of dry wells.
Halliburton has already had LWD experience, with Sperry Drilling and Chevron (NYSE: CVX) collaborating on a LWD project in the Gulf of Thailand. Sperry also engaged in contract work with ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP) for LWD work in China’s Bohai Bay.
The XBAT LWD service is fairly new, but Sperry and Halliburton could use previous contacts with big-name companies to promote and distribute this form of technology, and it will no doubt make quite an impression with many other companies.
The medical industry already incorporates fiber-optics in surgical equipment. The telecommunications industry is slowly transitioning from traditional copper to fiber-optics as a way of storing and transmitting data faster, which speeds up Internet service and download times.
Sensory fiber-optic technology was originally used in submarine activity and has been gaining more steam in the defense industry. It will become a $1 billion industry by 2016.
As fiber-optic technology gains wider use among the military and spy agencies, so too will it become more readily available in the commercial sector.
In regards to the energy industry, this technology will greatly benefit countries that are eager to join North America in commercial shale production. It will allow companies to save time and money.
Just one fracking stage normally costs $100,000, but a typical well requires multiple fracking stages to achieve the deepest cracks. Companies can reduce fracking stages with fiber-optic sensory cables.
Once an efficient frack is achieved, companies can mimic the process based on underground readings.
But there are a few barriers to break through. It costs hundreds of the thousands of dollars to bring sensory fiber-optics onshore, so the price would need to come down if more companies were to utilize this new piece of technology. And bringing it onshore would require supportive devices such as micro-seismic tools to measure earth movements.
However, the benefits can outweigh the problems, since fiber-optic technology can be helpful in detecting pipeline leaks as well. If more investment funds are poured into this field, it can prove to be a valuable tool in detecting leaks earlier and preventing major oil spills.
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Sonic Well Investment
The energy industry is always excited to hear about new pieces of equipment that would help the extraction process, especially since North America is in the midst of a vast drilling boom.
But Halliburton has some competition within this new field.
OptaSense has a similar line of cables, and its technology also extends to railroad infrastructure, a crucial asset going forward as more energy companies rely on trains to ship crude around the country and to Canada.
And with troubling statistics regarding train accidents, OptaSense’s version of fiber-optic cables could be an asset in preserving railway safety. The company also has expertise in detecting pipeline accidents and maintaining pipeline security.
US Seismic Systems Inc., a subsidiary of Acorn Energy (NASDAQ: ACFN), has specialty in micro-seismic monitoring systems using fiber-optic cables. Its optic cables are less expensive than the conventional variety on the market – something that could make fiber-optic well sensors more accessible to the oil and gas industry.
The company is also proud to express minimal environmental impact in allowing companies to monitor fracking quickly and more efficiently. USSI is currently in discussions with companies that perform 75% annual fracking operations in the United States. USSI also has security services to monitor the integrity of pipelines and mining operations.
More work is being done to distinguish between the flows of water and oil and to improve listening capabilities. But this line of fiber-optic use is in its testing stages, and it is already showing practical use in fracking operations.
Investors will have to wait and see if this form of well measuring will catch more wind in the energy world.
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