Propellant enhancement is a method of increasing permeability through the application of a transient high pressure event to the target formation. As distinct from hydraulic fracturing, propellant enhancement does not involve the application of chemicals or water and consequently does not present the potential for legacy environmental issues. This paper compares the regulatory aspects of propellant enhancement within the states of Australia and also the differences between environmental impacts.

A series of propellant enhancements were undertaken for a suite of gas wells in the Surat Basin, Queensland. Propellant charges in the range 18-30 kg were initiated, with deflagration times in the range 500-1,000 milliseconds. The compliance regime for the transport, storage and use of propellant is established under the state’s Explosives Act 1999 as well as the Petroleum and Gas (Production and Safety) Act 2004 and the Environmental Protection Act 1994.

There are three categories of fracturing used to increase permeability: explosive fracturing; hydraulic fracturing; and propellant enhancement. Explosive fracturing applies a very high pressure transient over a period of a few microseconds and can cause local, radial fracturing but with less desired compaction; hydraulic fracturing applies a lower pressure but over a longer period and with greater surface power, resulting in fractures that can extend 200-300 m, largely in the vertical plane; and propellant enhancement, which applies a mid-range pressure over a period of 10-1,000 milliseconds, resulting in fractures extending tens of metres but with random distribution. Residuals from the deflagration process are nitrogen, hydrogen chloride, water and carbon dioxide. There are no precursors for the BTEX suite and no conditions arising that could produce BTEX.

A prime question was to determine whether propellant enhancement is captured under the term ‘hydraulic fracturing’ in states’ regulations across Australia. Propellant enhancement is a technology with very few environmental impacts. Vehicular movements to support propellant enhancement are less than five percent of those to undertake hydraulic fracturing on the same formation. There is no requirement for waste water treatment.

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