It’s not easy to convince an oil and gas operator to experiment with a $30 million well pad, to put a different kind of sand into a well that has been responding just fine to the status quo or to try fracking it with liquefied natural gas instead of the cheap, available and proven water mixture used today.
It takes some finesse and the promise of much greater yields in the future, even if that future is more than a decade away.
That’s the uneasy task of Jared Ciferno, the Pittsburgh-based director of the strategic center for natural gas and oil at the National Energy Technology Laboratory that serves as the fossil fuel research arm of the Department of Energy.
“We’ll pay you to do it,” he tells companies.
But government funding isn’t really the draw.
It’s this: Even with all the millions of dollars spent tapping a single shale well, the hundreds of trucks and webs of pipelines and millions of tons of water and sand, only between 5 percent and 30 percent of the fuel trapped in the ground comes out through the well.