The latest decisions taken on COP-26, including agreements on coal, methane, and limitations on the utilization of fossil fuels make up an important stage in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. However, it will take several decades, numerous organizational arrangements, and immense financial resources for a complete switching of the energy industry to renewable sources. This is related to the fact that presently the share of fossil fuels in primary energy consumption globally comprises more than 85%, and primary consumption of oil and gas constitutes the major portion of this volume – about 55%. Nevertheless, the problems of climate change require urgent and decisive steps to be taken. It is apparent that practical accomplishment of these objectives is impossible without a full-scale implementation of advanced technologies aimed at environmental protection and reduction of ecological burden on infrastructure. In the first instance, this is related to directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies that are increasingly being used in modern oil-and-gas extraction practices. This is caused by an extended and more energy-intensive well drilling; consumption of a large amount of water and water bearing-layer depletion; absence of full-scale control of fracture formation in the hydraulic fracturing process, which can lead to the appearance of areas of contact with natural fissures and water-bearing layers; involvement of dangerous chemicals; and disturbance of seismic balance.
A considerable portion of efficient technical solutions aimed to resolve or mitigate the adverse effects of the aforementioned problems is concentrated in patents or patent applications registered in various patent offices. The patent database "DIRECTIONAL DRILLING & HYDRAULIC FRACTURING / Ecology & environment" was prepared by EnerTechUp company and includes the inventions, where the authors disclosed technical solutions that eliminate or reduce the negative environmental impacts related to the employment of directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies in hydrocarbon production. The database contains 13214 patent documents registered in patent offices around the world since 1994 and 2752 patent families.
Countries participating in patenting process. Number of patents obtained by resident applicants in 2001-2020
The main body of the patent documents were registered between 2014 and 2019 with a peak of patenting activity in 2017. USPTO (US) patent office annually was the leader by the number of granted patents. The highest activity in patenting their inventions was demonstrated by the residents of the United States with a share of more than 68% of the total number of patents granted during 2001-2020. Among other countries whose residents were granted at least 50 patents were China, Canada, the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom.
The most popular IPC subgroup with a share of almost 4% was E21B43/26 – obtaining fluids from wells by forming crevices or fractures. Different methods as a type of technical solution were mentioned in almost 44% of cases, devices – in almost 20%, compositions – in 36%. In a considerable part of the inventions two or more types of technical solutions were mentioned simultaneously.
The list of top 10 most productive applicants by the number of patents includes:
- Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. (US)
- Rohm and Haas Company (US)
- Dow Global Technologies, LLC (US)
- Baker Hughes Incorporated (US)
- Schlumberger Technology Corporation (US)
- M-I LLC (US)
- Unilever N.V. (NL)
- Schlumberger Technology B.V. (NL)
- Ecolab USA Inc. (US)
- Sinopec China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (CN)
The share of Halliburton Energy Services, Inc was the highest in the intellectual property registry and comprised almost 15% in case of patents and 12% for patent applications.
Among most popular groups of documents having similar technological attributes and at the same time aimed at resolving ecological problems were:
- Biocidal compositions
- Wastewater treatment by distillation or evaporation
- Solid waste utilization
- Production and use of proppants with smaller ecological footprint
- Ecology and safety in hydraulic fracturing
- Energy, gas and water consumption in directional drilling
- Protection of boreholes from undesirable substances
Considerably less often the patent documents proposed technical solutions aimed at providing reduction of emissions of carbon dioxide and methane or utilization thereof, health protection, environmental protection measures, prevention or remediation of oil spills or ground water pollution, reclamation of soil.
Carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere is one of the key issues the climate change strategies are aimed at. In hydrocarbon production technologies employing directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing this problem is addressed by both the solutions reducing the level of CO2 emitted during the production process, and by the procedures involving utilization of already generated CO2, such as sequestering or using it as working fluid in hydraulic fracturing process. One example of the solution to this problem is presented here:
Viscosifying proppants for use in carbon dioxide-based fracturing fluids and methods of making and use thereof / P: US10066155B1 / IPC: C09K8/80, E21B43/267 / Liang Feng, Al-Muntasheri Ghaithan A, Li Leiming, Reddy B Raghava / Saudi Arabian Oil Company.
The invention describes a proppant for CO2 fluid-based hydraulic fracturing. The invention solves the problem related to the inability of CO2 fluids to suspend proppants for proper fracking process by proposing a viscosifier coated proppants. Such proppants are coated with CO2-philic coating comprising a solvable portion that CO2-based fluid during the contact. The claims of the invention provide a detailed description of the viscosifying coating composition. The invention allows carbon dioxide-based fluid to be used instead of aqueous solution in the fracking process making it more environmentally sound and minimizing freshwater consumption (Image from US10066155B1).
During the 20-year period under consideration the number of mentions in the patent documents decreased considerably for technological operations related to Drilling and well elements and, to a lesser degree, for Hydraulic fracturing materials / Working fluids. The share of mentions of technology elements “Hydraulic fracturing equipment and methods” and “Hydraulic fracturing materials /Recovery and utilization” in the inventions has grown slightly.
High, or at least satisfying statistical indicators of patenting activity A/P (Relationship of number of applications to number of documents by year), A/A5 (Relationship of number of applications to 5-year average number of applications by year), As/A (Relationship of number of start applications to total number of applications by year), and upward trends in annual appearance of new applicants and new IPC indices show a high level of patenting activity in Directional drilling and Hydraulic fracturing sectors disclosing technical solutions related to Ecology & environment. No convincing grounds were found for any changes in the current trends in the short run.
Patent activity. Relationship of number of start applications to total number of applications by year (AS/A)
Considering fairly stringent resolutions adopted during the latest climate summit in Glasgow, intensification of patenting activity in the subject under review should be expected. First of all, this can be related to the segment of ecological problems with regard to the reduction of emissions or utilization of carbon dioxide or methane. It is also possible that in the coming years the number of inventions in Directional drilling and Hydraulic fracturing sector disclosing technical solutions aimed in the first instance at directly resolving ecological and environmental problems will grow considerably. Presently, ecological constituents in the inventions are predominantly of accompanying nature, appearing along with the solution of technological or economic problems that are considered as the main ones.
The proposed patent database allows the existing trends in the intellectual property market of the specified industrial sector to be timely traced. The patent database is targeted at inventors, engineers, researchers, managers and business administrators involved in the development of Oil & Gas production technologies from low permeability plays. The reuse of patent database and additional patent information bulletin is authorised under the Creative Commons — Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International — CC BY-SA 4.0 licence. A complete version of the database can be found at www.aenert.com.