Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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What’s Lacking with Fracking

The fuel-extraction method behind the U.S. energy boom gets new science to mitigate wastewater and other environmental concerns while improving efficiency.
October 25, 2015
What’s Lacking with Fracking

Los Alamos scientist Hari Viswanathan inspects a microfluidic cell used to study the extraction of hydrocarbon fuels from a complex fracture network.

"We may discover an economics of natural-gas production that actually favors smaller environmental impacts."

In the past ten years, per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide have dropped to
a level not seen since the 1960s, and the drop has been attributed in large part to a recent surge in natural-gas production. And because natural gas generates only about half as much carbon dioxide as coal for every watt of energy produced, the nation is putting less carbon into the atmosphere—all while stimulating the economy and raising the possibility of American energy independence. The trouble is, most of this natural gas has been coming from shale formations more than a mile underground, and current extraction methods (a.k.a., fracking) recover only about 15 percent of the natural gas in place while consuming about a hundred billion gallons of freshwater annually to do so, turning much of that water into highly toxic waste. Los Alamos scientists are working to develop the multi-scale mechanics, chemistry, thermodynamics, and hydrodynamics of fuel extraction from deep geological formations in search of greater efficiency and environmental security—meaning, among other things, more gas from less water.

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