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Are electrically powered fleets the future of fracking?

drillingcontractor.org | Drilling Contractor

March 16, 2021
By Stephen Whitfield, Associate Editor

E-frac systems tout emissions reductions and lower costs over time, but higher upfront capital requirements and lead times remain barriers

As the shale completions industry navigates the current economic and ESG landscape, it continues to be challenged by two significant and growing requirements: to find new cost efficiencies and to reduce its carbon footprint. While there is no magic bullet for either of these challenges, electrically powered fracturing (e-frac) fleets are shaping up to be one solution in the toolbox.

Currently, e-fracs make up only around 10% of the overall US frac market, according to Matthew Moncla, Chief Operating Officer at US Well Services. He estimates there are just 12-13 such fleets currently running in the US. However, growth in the market share of e-fracs is highly anticipated in the coming years, with some forecasting it could reach 30% within five years.

There is reason to believe such significant growth is possible. E-frac systems utilize electrically powered pressure pumps running on modular gas turbine generators, as opposed to the diesel-driven pumps of a conventional system. The turbines make electricity using CNG, LNG or site-produced field gas that may otherwise be flared. This means both fuel savings and carbon reductions are possible.

According to Evolution Well Services, its seven e-frac fleets combined have saved operators between $1 million to $1.5 million per month, compared with using conventional fleets. This has been achieved simply by leveraging locally produced natural gas as a feed source. If comparing fuel costs against diesel systems that meet the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Tier IV standard on new engines for off-road equipment, then US Well Services believes savings up to 85% is possible through the use of on-site field gas, depending upon the price of diesel.

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