Fiber-Optic Sensors Increasingly Tapped By Fracking Well Drillers

Fiber-Optic Sensors Increasingly Tapped By Fracking Well Drillers

16 July 2013

A study published by consultancy Information Gatekeepers predicts that the market for distributed fiber-optic sensing lines will nearly double over the coming three years, reaching $1.1 billion. The growth will come from the technology's increasing usage among energy companies as a means to monitor temperatures and sounds in fracking wells to optimize resource extraction at a time when oil prices are constantly rising.

According to the study's author Dave Krohn, the market for fiber-optic sensors is advancing at a very rapid pace, with oil and gas undoubtedly being the major drivers behind its growth.

The fracking industry, which remains an ecologically controversial practice despite helping to increase US oil output to a record high level, started testing fiber-optic cables to monitor temperatures underground about ten years ago. Later, drillers began experimenting with the technology's capacity to analyze sound, finding that it can differentiate between good and bad fracking stages. In addition, the fiber can capture very delicate sounds which can indicate when the cement sealing between the well casing and the drilled hole is not working adequately, thereby preventing gas from reaching the surface and exploding.

The technology is now being tested by contractors from Halliburton to record sound and temperature across the entire length of the fiber-optic cables. The cables, encased in steel and fastened between the fracking well and rock, allow the drillers to track sounds and capture noises signaling rocks containing the largest amounts of fuel. The procedure is overseen by Glenn McColpin, director of reservoir monitoring at the Houston-based Pinnacle department of Halliburton, who is now optimizing software together with his team to transform the sounds into a graph that will show the level at which rock containing the fuel has fractured.