What is Fracking?
Ever since the dawn of humanity, humans have been searching for sources of fuel. In the beginning it was wood. Humans burned dung and peat as well. Coal fueled the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s and 1800s. Then came whale oil and kerosene. Coal also fueled steam engines, and finally, oil production began in the United States in 1859 when the first well drilled specifically for oil was drilled in Pennsylvania. Natural gas followed soon after, along with nuclear energy, and energy production was in full force by the beginning of the twentieth century.
The demand for energy only continues to grow as countries become more industrialized and as populations across the world continue to expand as well. Global energy demand rose by 2.1% in 2017, and no one is predicting a slowdown any time soon.
Thus, as energy demand grows, so does the need to discover more sources of energy. Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, are making headway. However, both rely on oil products in order to make solar cells and windmill components. Hence, technology has expanded to keep up, which has enabled fracking to take center stage in oil production.
Northern Oilfield Services based in Williston offers the oilfield equipment rentals, including wellhead equipment and frac iron rentals. We offer maintenance service on all of our drilling equipment or production tree equipment, and also sales of parts to keep your oilfield equipment running smoothly. Our mission is to ensure your oilfield equipment is taken care of so you can focus on the actual job itself. Below, we’ll go into detail about the history of fracking, what it is, why it works, and why it’s controversial. Continue reading, and then contact us today to learn more!
Hydraulic fracturing (otherwise known as fracking, fracing, hydro fracking, or fraccing), has been around for over 150 years, although if you asked most people on the street, they would tell you it’s a new technology. That’s because it has only gained prominence in the last 20 years due to the technological innovations that have made it possible to use hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas from shale rock, which is a fine-grained, sedimentary rock that is made primarily of mud and clay, along with other minerals. What many people don’t realize is that it is fracking that has made the US the world’s largest oil and gas producer. In fact, it is fracking that could potentially make the US energy independent in the future.
It was during the Civil War that the earliest form of fracking took shape. Coined as “exploding torpedo,” Colonel Roberts discovered this method when he was firing artillery into the ground during the Battle of Fredericksburg and then tried it in oil wells. Basically, a torpedo or a packet of gunpowder was dropped into an oil well and set off, and water was added, which made the process more efficient in fracturing the rock. Northern Oilfield Services notes that the result was a huge increase in the amount of oil that could be produced from that oil well. Colonel Roberts patented the technology in 1865, and torpedoing soon spread.
This fracking process remained the same until the 1930s when acid was substituted for nitroglycerin, which allowed the wells to stay open longer. However, modern hydraulic fracturing began with research conducted in 1947 by Floyd Farris of Stanolind Oil and Gas who experimented by putting in gasoline and sand into a natural gas well, along with a gel breaker. More research ensued when this wasn’t quite the right combination, and in 1949, Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company and Stanolind successfully fractured an oil well in Texas. Halliburton obtained the exclusive right to the process, which was then extended to other oilfield service companies. That first year 332 wells were fracked with a combination of gasoline, sand, and crude oil. Productivity of these wells improved by 75%. Later, in 1953, water was added as well as other additives to improve the fracking process, and hydraulic fracturing has only continued to boom.
Northern Oilfield Services notes that some claim that hydraulic fracturing has done more to increase oil production than any other technique. In fact, today more than 90% of US wells are fractured, using hydraulic fracturing techniques and methods. Hydraulic fracturing enhances well performance, minimizes drilling, and recovers more oil and natural reserves from wells than otherwise would be possible. These benefits of hydraulic fracking have made what otherwise would be impossible sources of oil and gas (such as tight gas sands and shale deposits) possible.
The hydraulic fracturing process is elegant in its simplicity. Fracturing begins by pumping water (usually three to five million gallons) plus sand and chemicals into a wellbore, or a drilling hole, at high pressure. These wellbores have steel casing all along the hole to keep the fluids in. The steel is perforated with tiny holes where the actual fracking process will take place. In horizontal wells, the fracking fluid is pumped down and then across. These wells can be up to 10,000 feet deep. This high pressure liquid causes the rock (shale or other material) to crack, or fracture. The sand helps to keep these holes open long enough for the natural gas or oil to be extracted from the rock and pumped back up to the surface where it is then separated and transported for processing, usually to an oil refinery or natural gas facility. The water used in fracking is either pumped into injection wells, shipped off to be treated, or recycled. On average, it takes between three and ten days to fracture a well.
Northern Oilfield Services notes that the chemicals added to fracking fluid are usually of a proprietary nature and not disclosed. However, the reason chemicals are added is because it increases the speed the water can travel down the wellbore, which then increases the pressure that the water flows, which vastly improves the results of the hydraulic fracture.
Before hydraulic fracturing, oil wells would be drilled and oil pumped out. However, when the oil stopped flowing, the oil well was abandoned, leaving a lot more oil in the ground. This was an incredible waste of resources in the long run. Hydraulic fracturing now allows much more oil and natural gas to be retrieved, driving the overall cost of drilling down and driving the amount of oil collected up. In fact, many of these older wells are being reopened and fractured in order to retrieve these resources, again at considerably less cost since the wellbore is already drilled.
Directional drilling has also allowed for only one well to be drilled instead of many to retrieve the oil or natural gas reserve. This minimizes the impact on the environment and speeds up the entire oil production process, which makes everyone happy — the oil company saves money because it’s faster and those around the oil well aren’t impacted as much.
However, to answer our question about why hydraulic fracturing works, it has to do with the sand. The sand, if you recall, keeps the cracks, or fissures, open so the oil and natural gas can be released from the rock and flow upwards. It is this precise process, which is actually very scientific, that is the reason fracking works. The cracks can only be 0.1 m apart. To achieve this, the rate that the frack fluid and water are pumped is crucial as is the pressure. Northern Oilfield Services notes that hydraulic fracturing is a precise science, one, that when you think about it, is truly amazing
While hydraulic fracturing has been in use, it wasn’t until hydraulic fracturing began to be applied to horizontal wells in the 1980s that the US oil production boom began. A horizontal well is an oil wellbore dug at an angle, usually of at least 80 degrees of a normal vertical wellbore. A form of directional drilling, this technique is used when the oil or natural gas reserve is misshapen or otherwise inaccessible with normal vertical drilling, such as something on the surface blocking the way like a mountain. Horizontal drilling began in earnest in the 2010s, resulting in a decrease in costs and an improved efficiency at extraction for oil and natural gas, especially in the United States. Directional drilling has again allowed what otherwise would have been inaccessible petroleum and natural gas reserves to be drilled.
Furthermore, many speculate that it wasn’t until the price of oil began to rise that the investment was in hydraulic fracturing equipment in the 1980s and 1990s and in using fracking on shale formations was made by all of the oil companies. If oil prices had stayed low, the US may never have began to dominate the oil market.
To be clear, Northern Oilfield Services notes that no one is quite sure how fracking got to be so controversial besides the fact that people don’t want chemicals injected into the earth. In more than 60 years of fracking and over two million fracking treatments performed, there has not been one documented case of fracking fluid or the hydraulic fracturing process impacting an aquifer.
Many people don’t like the fact that so much water is needed for the fracking process (as stated earlier, this is between three and five million gallons). Many don’t like the wastewater that is then pumped back up, which then has to be treated at a wastewater facility. Some cite air pollution and the leakage of methane gas that is released from the rocks along with the oil and natural gas. Methane gas is highly flammable and can be toxic when combined with another gas.
With the injection of such high-pressure water into the ground and the breaking up of rocks, microearthquakes (earthquakes of less than a 3 on the Richter Scale) do occur. However, most of these are less than .05, which is so small no one on earth’s surface would notice them. Most of these earthquakes are associated with the injection of wastewater into disposal wells near pre-existing fault lines.
Hydraulic fracturing has made the production of oil and natural gas from shale possible and cost effective. The International Energy Agency estimates that in the next five years, the US will be responsible for the one-third of new oil supplies. The US is likely to change from the world’s leading importer of oil to a net exporter. It is predicted that by 2035, the US will be completely energy independent.
Many people don’t remember the energy crisis in the 1970s where the US was so dependent on OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) for its oil needs. If a similar situation were to happen today, the US economy would be crippled, an economic recession or even a depression would ensue, and many people’s lives would immediately decline into poverty. The fact of the matter is that hydraulic fracturing has made this scenario virtually impossible. Our energy independence is here thanks to hydraulic fracturing. Most of the products we use on a daily basis, from shampoos and gasoline to plastic water bottles and are made from oil. Americans live in amazing opulence compared to the rest of the world thanks to oil and thanks to hydraulic fracturing. The bad press hydraulic fracturing has received is just that — bad. Bad reporting. Mistaken “facts.” A complete and utter dismissal of the big picture of the economy, our lifestyles, and our energy independence. Northern Oilfield Services notes that none of us truly wants to live without oil.
When the oilfield companies began to merge and oilfield supply companies began to take over most of the actual drilling, including hydraulic fracturing, of the oil wells in the 1980s and 1990s, oil production soared. Now, almost all of the actual production of oil is by these smaller oilfield supply and oilfield service companies, of which Northern Oilfield Services located in Williston is one. We supply frac iron rentals to other oilfield service companies so that they can extract the oil and natural gas through the hydraulic fracturing process. We also offer wellhead rentals and sales, as well as on-site maintenance and refurbishment services. We sell parts for wellheads and other oilfield equipment. In essence, we sell, service, repair, and inspect oilfield equipment, including frac iron. We can come to your wellsite to make it convenient for you, or you can bring your drilling equipment to us. Our production tree services are unparalleled, and we service the entire western United States, including North Dakota, Colorado, and Wyoming.
Northern Oilfield Services believes in helping America with its energy needs by helping those who extract the petroleum for our use. The benefits of fracking are clear as stated above. Our frac equipment maintenance service is top-notch, and we offer all of the parts, such as production trees, casing heads, and gate valves to keep your frac equipment up and running. By outsourcing your maintenance and compliance needs for all your oilfield rental equipment, you’ll save money and be better able to focus on the task at hand. You’ll also save time, which you could be using to spend with your family, your friends, your dog, or on your hobbies. Contact us today to get started!