Fracking, a common name for a process known as hydraulic fracturing, is an oil and natural gas drilling technique that extracts these valuable resources from deep underground. Advocates of fracking believe it is a safe, economical source of energy while critics worry about the drinking water supply, pollutants and other environmental factors.
What is fracking?
Fracking is a safe, responsible way to benefit from previously untapped resources. The equipment used in fracking has improved air emissions and use less energy due to engine efficiency standards in the industry. By drilling horizontally, 60 times more below-ground area is utilized than when fracking first began in the 1970s, consuming much less surface area than those early years. Operators drill as few as six wells on one site to efficiently access the same amount of gas or oil that previously required more than 16 wells.
How does fracking work?
Fracking or the hydraulic fracturing process begins by drilling a well that is vertical or slightly angled from the surface for two miles or more. This vertical well is then encased in steel or cement or both for stability, which prevents any contamination to groundwater supplies.
Once the well reaches the deep layer of rock under the earth’s surface where the oil or natural gas exists, it is then curved in a 90-degree angle and drilled horizontally into the rock layer. This horizontal portion of the well can be more than one mile long.
The fracking process can now begin; when the well is completely drilled and fully encased, fracking fluid is injected into the well at a high pressure, typically more than 9,000 pounds per square inch. Fracking fluid is mostly water, but it can contain detergents and other additives in amounts less than 2%. The pressure from the fluid is what causes the fractures to form in the rock surrounding the horizontal portion of the well, allowing the natural gas or oil to flow in.
The fracking fluid will eventually have sand or other particles added to it, which act as props to open the fractures and ensure the continued flow of natural gas or oil even after the pumping pressure stops. Once the underground rock is fractured and propped open, the trapped reservoirs filled with gas or oil are pumped back to the surface. The byproduct water from fracking is often contaminated with salts, radon or other heavy metals and hydrocarbons, so it is deposited to a wastewater treatment facility.
On average, the entire process takes three to 10 days and the well can produce resources for as long as 50 years. The site will continue to house the production valve area and collection equipment, but the rest of the site is returned to its natural state in as quickly as four months.
What are the benefits of fracking?
Fracking has enabled many new supplies of clean-burning gas and oil to increase the country’s energy security. These supplies generate electricity and other power that benefit many generations. Fracking is used worldwide by countries that see the benefit of having uninterrupted supplies of energy at prices that are affordable.
In the U.S., the most profitable areas include the Great Plains, Texas and the area known as the Marcellus Shale, which covers central New York into Ohio and all the way south to Virginia. This region has a rich supply of natural gas, causing it to have the nickname of “Frackistan”. The economically depressed areas of this region are eager to attract the fracking industry – and the resulting benefits – to their local economy.
What happens when the fracking is done?
Once the resources like natural gas or oil are recovered from the fracking site, the land used for fracking is typically turned back to its natural state as if the fracking never occurred. The well pipes are cut off from three to six feet below the ground and the well is filled with cement. All drilling equipment and cement pads used for the fracking tools are removed and the earth is smoothed and replanted. The landowner can again use the land with virtually no sign that fracking ever occurred there at any time.
Utilized for 65 years, advanced hydraulic fracturing or fracking employs the latest technology to safely tap into tight rock formations and shale and free the natural resources of gas and oil for refinement and use. Through the use of deep drilling, horizontal boring and pressurized water injection, fracking has created an energy revolution, changing the picture of oil and gas production in the U.S. and cutting energy prices by up to 40%.
Independence from foreign supplies of oil and gas and all the political controversies that come along with that is viewed as a highly positive thing in many countries. By ensuring the continued environmental and health safety of the fracking process through governmental regulations, a new energy revolution can be enjoyed through hydraulic fracturing.