Story by Noah Botwinick, contributing author for the PeoplePlanetProfitBlog.com
What is horizontal tight fraking?
Hydraulic fracturing, other known as fracking, fraccing or fracing, is the process by which fractures in rocks underneath the surface of the earth are opened and widened by pressurized fluid; in other words, chemicals and liquids are injected at high pressure to the rocks. It is generally used to extract oil or natural gas found beneath rocks under the earth’s surface, but it has other functions as well. Holes are usually drilled two miles down and four miles sideways.
Fracking has the potential to change the face of the American energy industry because it is a way of accessing natural gas that can then be used for energy. Relying on fracking could detach American dependency on other sources of energy. The US has over 200 years of supply of natural gas buried underneath the ground, and this supply would not be able to be accessed without the process of fracking. Fracking is currently the only way possible to unlock the millions and millions of barrels of oil and hundreds of years’ worth of natural gas to be used by Americans as an alternate source of energy.
Substances that can be extracted through fracking include petroleum, shale gas, tight gas and coal seam gas. These substances are found thousands of feet under the earth’s surface, and hydraulic fracturing greatly increases the rate at which these valuable substances can be extracted and used.
Why is Fracking Necessary?
Natural gas and oil that can be used to produce energy is usually found in subterranean natural reservoirs, which are generally located in rock formations of porous sandstone, limestone, dolomite rocks, shale rocks or coal beds. The issue is that when gas is found so far beneath the surface of the earth, there is generally not enough accessibility into these reservoirs to make extraction possible or cost efficient. Additionally, there is usually not enough reservoir pressure to allow natural gas and oil to flow up from the reservoir up to the surface at a fast enough rate to make it worth it. By making conductive fractures in the rocks, it creates a path that connects a larger volume of the reservoir to the drilled well, thus allowing the substance to flow to the surface.
How Fracking Works
Fracking is the last step in the drilling process for natural gas and oil. Here’s how it works:
A hole is drilled, 4 miles total. Then, the drillers go back into the hole with about 5 million gallons of drinking water or freshwater, a million pounds of proppant sand (sand that will keep an induced hydraulic fracture open during the extraction process), and a little bit of a chemical which acts as a lubricant to get the sand into the rock formation. When these materials hit the brittle rock formation that holds within it the natural gas or oil these materials crack the formation, creating lots of little fissures. These fissures then provide a passageway for the trapped oil and natural gas to travel into the drilled hole (the well) and up to the surface, where it can then be manufactured into a usable form of energy.
Brief History of Fracking in the US
Hydraulic fracturing was first used in 1947, in Kansas. In 1998, the first modern fracturing technology, known as horizontal slickwater fracturing was used, in Texas. However, even in the 1860s, fracturing was already used by oil producers in the US to create shallow, rock oil, water or gas wells. Originally, either liquid or solidified nitroglycerin was used to fracture the rocks, and in the 1930s acid was employed as a non-explosive fluid to create wells in the rocks. By 1949, the modern horizontal tight fracking techniques had been introduced into widespread usage in America, and since then it has been used for extraction in over a million oil and natural gas wells in the US.
In the 1970s, after much technological research and development funded by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, hydraulic fracturing was able to be applied to shale gas deposits in order to extract natural gas from shale, or tight sandstone formations. This is where slickwater fracturing came about. Slickwater fracturing is the process by which chemicals are added to the water to increase its flow into the shale. The invention and subsequent widespread application of slickwater fracturing allowed for the economically sound extraction of shale gas to be used as an alternate source of energy in the US.
Other Uses of Fracking
Hydraulic fracturing was developed to increase the flow of oil and gas from wells deep beneath the surface of earth for use as energy, but it has other uses as well. For instance, it can also be used to stimulate groundwater wells. It is also sometimes used in mining, as a method of causing rocks to cave, as well as a means of enhancing waste remediation processes, such as hydrocarbon waste or spills. Additionally, it is applied in waste disposal, as a means of injecting waste into rock formations far beneath the surface of the earth. It can also be used to measure the stress in the earth, which can cause earthquakes. Another use for fracking is in producing geothermal energy; in other words, the process of fracking can be used to extract heat from the earth that can be used in energy production. Lastly, it is used in geologic sequestration of CO2 to increase injection rates.
One of the main environmental concerns with fracking is that when fracking is done through aquifers, it contaminates the drinking water. However, the fracking industry maintains that these concerns are not a problem, for two main reasons:
1) The fracking is done at a depth of roughly 10,000 feet beneath the surface, whereas the drinking water is only about 500 feet below the earth’s surface. Therefore, the fracking itself is actually occurring thousands of feet away from the drinking water itself, and therefore not connected to the water.
2) As per governmental regulations, the fracking industry has to set surface casing over the fracking so that it doesn’t contaminate the drinking water. This is done by putting a steel pipe over the fracking that is locked into place with cement. This prevents anything from leaking out into the drinking water.