Hydraulic Fracturing

What is Fracing (Fracking)?

In recent years, technological advancements have allowed domestic oil and gas production to thrive. The United States now has access to oil and natural gas reserves that had previously been inaccessible, causing a tremendous boom in the local fossil fuel business thanks to the techniques of fracing. As a result, the economy of many of the nation’s states and drilling towns has shown impressive growth.

Although the heightened supply of domestic fuel has worked to lower the price, local economies continue to stay strong in most areas thanks to the gas industry. With new innovations in fracking technology, this growth is poised to continue.

What Makes Shale Beds Unique?

Shale Bed Hydraulic Fracturing

All fossil fuels are mined from sedimentary rock deposits. Shale is different in structure from other types of sedimentary rock, such as sandstone or limestone. Therefore, special techniques must be used to drill gas from within shale beds.

Shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock that forms in layers, similar to the pages of a book. These layers allow the rock to be fractured with an appropriate amount of pressure and technique. However, without fracturing the layers of shale, oil and gas remains trapped inside the rock. It is only recently that drilling efforts have been able to tap into this resource.

Because there is so much shale in the United States, and these beds have been an untapped resource until very recently, there is a tremendous amount of potential in so-called “shale gas” obtained by fracing.

What is Fracing (Fracking)?

Fracing is a drilling technique that can be used to extricate fossil fuel resources trapped inside of shale rock. There are massive shale beds in some parts of the country, including North Dakota and Kansas, but the oil they contained was previously inaccessible with standard drilling equipment.

Hydraulic fracturing, better known now as fracing, was initially invented in the 1940s. However, it was not until the past decade or so that the technology was able to advance to a level that would allow for such impressive growth in the domestic gas industry. With so much growth in the industry, many laypeople are left wondering “what is fracing?” or struggling to understand the science behind the process.

Essentially, fracing works by injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and certain chemicals into the horizontal wells that form within shale formations. The pressure works to push the rocks apart, creating fissures, and the sand helps to hold these fissures open and allow the gas trapped inside to escape.

What Does Fracing Entail?

Hydraulic fracturing requires a substantial amount of water in order to work properly. More than a million gallons of water are necessary to provide the appropriate amount of pressure to open a wide fissure in a shale bed. This water is delivered by approximately 200 tanker trucks; the water is then mixed with sand and chemicals and pumped down into a horizontally drilled well by a pumper truck.

The wells may be drilled down up to 10,000 feet beneath the surface to reach the shale beds where natural gas and oil reserves are trapped. The fuel, now freed, flows with water back up out of the well and is stored in pits before being taken to a special treatment plant where it can be purified and stored or piped to market.

Fracing Controversy

Because fracing technology has enabled substantial growth in domestic gas production, it has many supporters and has garnered much praise. Domestic fuel allows the United States to be more energy independent and stimulates the local economy.

However, not all parties love fracing. Some environmentalists have raised concerns about the chemical content of fracing fluid, the high quantities of water used in the process and the possibility of earthquakes occurring at the location of fracing wells. It’s possible that technological improvements may act to reduce these concerns in the future so that fracing can continue to grow and provide a safer domestic gas alternative.