Borates in Oil Production Energize a Steady Supply

:: Tuesday, June 18, 2019 :: Posted By Frank Wawrzos
Oil production in the United States is booming. As reported by Bloomberg, U.S. crude oil output in 2018 increased by 2.2 million barrels a day, the largest amount ever by a single country in year. Supported by improved efficiencies in drilling and production methods such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the U.S. is leading a global expansion in oil production.
Those improvements are supported by a prudent application of technologies and the strategic use of supporting materials such as borates in oilfield chemical applications. In oil drilling and fracking, borates provide a variety of benefits throughout the process, from initial drilling to oil recovery and even tracing leaks.
This production supports myriad aspects of modern life beyond fuel. Oil is used in a variety of the products we use every day, including plastics and other polymers, clothing, synthetic rubbers, and cosmetics. Petroleum is even used in additive forms in many foods.
And of course, oil is a primary energy source for many of the activities of modern life, from transportation to heating to the production of electricity. Borates help oil producers reach and extract oil deposits that were previously unreachable—and keep up with consumer demand.

Borates in hydraulic fracturing: A proven approach

Borates provide many benefits in oil exploration, drilling, and production. They help producers control pH, prevent corrosion, and improve viscosity of drilling fluids. For more than 40 years, borates have been used in fracking operations, particularly to improve the performance and cleanup of fracking fluids.
Hydraulic fracturing is accomplished by forcing large amounts of gelled fluid into oil-bearing formations, expanding the reservoir rock. The fracking fluid is combined with proppants—small particles of ceramic or sand—that help hold open the openings and free the flow of oil. Borates support this operation in several ways.

Cross-linking for fluid gelation

In fracking fluids, borates act as a cross-linking agent with guar gum-based polymers, forming a chemical bond that turns the liquid into a viscous gel. This gelation is necessary to support the proppants so that they can be distributed throughout the reservoir without clumping or sinking.

Stable support during drilling

Borates help ensure that drilling operations go smoothly because gels formed with boron are not irreversibly degraded by the extreme conditions caused by pumping. They are also stable at high temperatures—up to 300°F.

Easy cleanup

Considered more environmentally friendly than metal cross-linking agents such as zirconates and titanates, water-soluble borates aid cleanup because they make it easy to control the viscosity of the liquid by adjusting the pH. (To create the gel, add a base; to collapse the gel, add an acid.) This enables producers to maintain the gelation and prevent the loss of fracking fluid while drilling though unconsolidated or porous rock zones, then release the gelation to make the fluid easier to dispose of.

These beneficial qualities of borates make borate cross-linked fluids a welcome alternative to uncrosslinked “slickwater” fluids, which lack the ability to support and transport proppants.
Borate cross-linked fluids have proven to be highly effective in both low and high permeability formulation for oilfield fracking. Typically, the concentration used for effective crosslinking is 0.1 lbs to 2 lbs of B2O3 per 10 lbs of polymer. For this use of borates in oil production, 20 Mule Team® Borax boric acid, borax decahydrate, or Polybor® are the preferred products.

Operational efficiency and cost containment through U.S. Borax

For U.S. oil producers working with local distributors, there are distinct advantages to sourcing borates from a U.S.-based producer. Through U.S. Borax’s well-established bulk delivery network, distributors can offer expedited delivery—even same-day delivery in some cases—and they are able to supply our products in large or less-than-truckload (LTL) quantities.
With established transport via rail, trucks, and containers and numerous local-level stocking points, U.S. Borax’s domestic distributors can offer a lower cost and a reliable supply chain.
In addition, our convenient bulk packaging helps reduce caking and makes the products easier to handle and use while ensuring full solubility in fracking liquids.

Support in the oilfield and the lab with a knowledgeable partner

Throughout its long history, U.S. Borax has invested in building extensive knowledge around the products it offers—and sharing that knowledge through research and practical applications.
Oilfield research and development chemists can request product samples to support their efforts further improve production efficiencies. We offer the largest portfolio of borates in the industry, and our in-house R&D and regulatory experts are ready to help chemists compare the benefits of different borates in oil production.
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U.S. Borax, part of Rio Tinto, is a global leader in the supply and science of borates—naturally-occurring minerals containing boron and other elements. We are 1,000 people serving 650 customers with more than 1,800 delivery locations globally. We supply around 30% of the world’s need for refined borates from our world-class mine in Boron, California, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles.  Learn more about Rio Tinto.

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