Geologists have long known about huge reservoirs of natural gas trapped in deep massifs of sedimentary “mudstone” called shale. The reservoirs finally opened up in the 1990s, when energy companies found an efficient way to crack the rock and free the gas bubbles by pumping underground a high-pressure mixture of fine sand and water. Many wells use powerful diesel engines to generate the kind of pressure needed to break up the shale. They are effective, but they’re also costing well operators billions of dollars in annual fuel expenses and tanker truck trips, not to mention carbon emissions. But what if you could use the cleaner-burning natural gas from the well to get all the power you need?
Some See Stranded Ships: The mobile GE turbine runs on field gas coming directly from the well. The technology could save customers some 80 percent in fuel costs by not having to truck diesel to their rigs.
GE engineers have mounted an advanced gas turbine on a trailer that can be towed to oil and gas rigs and power them with gas straight from the well, no conversion to CNG or LNG required. The technology could save customers some 80 percent in fuel costs by not having to truck diesel to the site.
The turbine, which has a modified jet engine at its core, can crank up to full power in minutes and pump out 25 megawatts of electricity. GE calls the technology the TM2500+aeroderivative gas turbine, or “power plant on wheels.” (TM stands for trailer-mounted and aeroderivative points to its innovative aviation pedigree.) The turbine is so compact and mighty that its cousin, the LM2500, powers the Queen Mary 2, the largest ocean liner ever built and the fastest one in service, and also the NAVY’s first hybrid ship, USS Makin Island.
GE just signed a three-year agreement with the Canadian oilfield technology company Evolution Well Services that will use the new turbine to power the pumps at a gas well in Lethbridge, Alberta, southeast of Calgary. Eldon Schelske, Evolution’s president, said that he picked the turbine because it provided “a mobile, natural gas-fueled power generation source for a new method of hydraulic fracturing that eliminates the use of diesel engines, resulting in lower emissions and lower operating costs, in terms of fuel savings and field personnel, as well as a reduced footprint at many of the well sites that we’ll be working on.”
The technology has applications outside Canada. Many observers view shale gas as a key factor behind a manufacturing renaissance in America. Shale gas is quickly becoming the most abundant source of natural gas in America. It now makes up about a quarter of U.S. natural gas production and by 2035, half of U.S. natural gas will come from the rock, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The American Chemistry Council estimates that a 25 percent increase in ethane supply, which is derived from shale gas, would lead to 17,000 new jobs in the chemical industry, 395,000 manufacturing and other jobs elsewhere, and add $132 billion to the U.S. economy.
Other GE businesses are developing innovative ways to support the shale gas boom. In December, for example, GE Aviation acquired the Italian aviation company Avio that makes gearboxes and other engine components for planes, ships and helicopters. John Godsman, GE Aviation’s general manager for business development, said that energy companies need rugged and powerful pumping transmissions that help compress and run as much as four million gallons of water into deep shale gas wells. “They use geared transmissions that work in high-speed, low-torque environments,” Godsman says. “These things need to last as long as 9,000 hours without a glitch.”
That’s something that GE customers have come to rely on.