Oxane: Down to the nitty-gritty
Like many commercial products that got their starts in university labs around the world, the technology behind Oxane’s Advanced Ceramic Proppants (ACP) could have been realized as something altogether different. Originating at Rice University, the lightweight, high-strength material could easily have been deployed in body armor or cosmetics applications, had it not been for the school’s proximity to oil and gas activity, and a booming fracturing market. Initial capital funding from ConocoPhillips and other industry majors didn’t hurt, either.
According to the proppant manufacturer’s V.P. of engineering, Mark Mack, a technology like Oxane’s, with its hollow-center design and ceramic coating, gives fracturing users a lightweight benefit downhole, without sacrificing strength. And, that is a quality not lost on other industries. “At the beginning, I think, you’ve got this choice of which way to go, but, once you’ve picked one, and you’ve really developed it, you can always go back to the others (in the future),” noted Mack of the material’s versatility.
Situated in an onshore U.S. market, where shale and tight oil plays have seen unprecedented growth in the past half-decade, Oxane’s Proppant enables producers to tackle wells under high stress, at increasing depths, where it can be difficult to prop to the tip of a fracture. However, accompanying this rapid growth has been a steep learning curve, and ongoing efforts by operators to increase their understanding of shale wells, especially.
As companies in relatively new, complex plays have come to realize, the old model of pumping anything downhole, and reaping whatever production possible, is rapidly changing. With better understanding and better engineering, Advanced Ceramic Proppant can be used cost-effectively to boost production from notoriously fickle formations. Mack said Oxane manufactures proppant in sizes of 30/40 to 50/60, with plans in 2014 to produce a 60/70 proppant, plus potential to move up the scale to 20/30 and 20/40 proppants.
Even with the current sizes, Oxane has begun to tap into today’s upper echelon of well engineering prospects: offshore deep water, with the recent announcement of its OxThor product. The company is not quite there, yet, but is already established in the domestic onshore market, having completed initial field testing in the Permian basin, beginning with vertical wells. As the market has shifted, Mack said, so has Oxane’s deployment, with the majority of recent jobs having been in horizontal wells, in plays like the Eagle Ford and Wolfcamp, and Canada’s Duvernay and Montney shales.
With a technology that got its start around 12 years ago, in the hands of graduate students and professors, Oxane has successfully navigated, and continues to navigate, the world of industrial R&D. “At any step of the way, until you’re really, fully commercial, and maybe even when you’re a large-scale commercial company, it’s the scale-up and the extended effort required” that are the most challenging, said Mack. Having established transloading facilities in Texas and Canada, the company is seeking out even more dedicated storage capacity, as business continues to boom, driving up demand for resources. In a recent operation, said Mack, the company hauled and delivered 3.2 million lb of proppant to a single well in just 36 hr.
After hitting the market with a “solution looking for a problem,” Mack said that Oxane, and its proprietary proppant, could see use on an international scale, but that would come with mitigating factors of its own, like local content requirements and transportation issues, among others. For now, the company is steadily tackling demands in the U.S. and Canada.
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