Frack King: an energy miracle or a threat to the environment? The controversial process of injecting high-pressure liquid into shale and other rock formations to extract the oil or gas within has increased domestic oil output in the United States while also generating worries about earthquakes and groundwater pollution.
Mukul Sharma, a professor of petroleum engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, has a different vision: geothermal fracking, a near-carbon-free energy source with fewer dangers. Sharma dubbed the “Frack King” in the industry, co-founded a new company, Geothermix, last year. The Austin-based firm aspires to create improved geothermal systems that are cost-effective, scalable, and environmentally benign.
Oil and gas wells were traditionally bored vertically, deep into the ground, where temperatures could reach 500°F. According to Sharma, the area available for heat exchange grew by up to a thousandfold with the widespread use of horizontal fracking in the late 1990s. Geothermix intends to use horizontal drilling in a new way: to generate geothermal energy rather than for oil and gas production.
Rather than pumping water into the rock to force oil or gas out, it will inject water into horizontal wells to heat the water. The resulting hot water or steam will subsequently be pumped out of the well and transformed into power using a closed-loop system. Traditional heating methods, which rely on the combustion of fossil fuels in a furnace or boiler, are in stark contrast.Although fracking uses fossil fuels, the geothermal systems that result do not, fracking with geothermal energy are also less hazardous. Fracking, when utilized for oil and gas production, can cause earthquakes.
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