Once inaccessible natural gas can now be extracted and collected. This natural gas was formed over a period of millions of years as layers of decaying organisms were exposed to heat and pressure. Now, with a process called fracking natural gas can be extracted and used to power us for decades to come. To learn more about this process keep on reading.
What is Fracking?
Modern hydraulic fracking is a technique used to extract natural gas or oil from “tight” rock. “Tight” rock refers to impermeable rock formations that lock in oil and gas–shale rock is a common example. During the process water, sand, and chemicals are injected underground at high pressures to crack open the tight rock layers. This allows the oil and gas trapped inside to escape.
Technically speaking, fracking isn’t new. Companies have been using this method for decades to extract oil and gas. Fracking was first used in Oklahoma back in 1949 as a way of increasing the flow of gas.
To read more about the history of fracking take a look at this article.
Recently however, fracking has become more widespread. In the mid-200s, companies in the United States figured out how to combine fracking and horizontal drilling. This breakthrough led to a drilling boom as the cost of fracking become reasonable. This boom mainly started out in states like North Dakota, Texas, and Pennsylvania. This “fracking boom” reshaped the American energy landscape, resulting in an increase in production and a reduced reliance on imports.
How Does Fracking Work?
Fracking starts out with a long vertical hole–known as a wellbore–drilled down through layers of sediment. Once the wellbore reaches 2500-3000 meters, the drill makes a 90 degree turn and starts drilling horizontally. The point at which the drill hits the perfect depth and makes that 90-degree turn is called its “kickoff point”. Once horizontal drilling is complete a specialized perforating gun is fed through the wellbore and past kickoff point. After reaching a horizontal depth of 1.5 kilometers the gun is fired. Doing so causes small inch-long holes to burst into the rock layer.
Three to four months after the initial drilling and use of the perforating gun, the well is ready for fracking to begin. Fracking fluid is then pumped into the well at such a high pressure, it cracks the shale rock allowing for gas and oil to escape. This fluid is made up of 90% water, the rest is chemical additives. These additives vary depending on the fracking site, but usually fall into three main categories: acids, friction-reducing compounds, and disinfectant. Acids are added to clear debris and to dissolve minerals, friction-reducing compounds create slickwater, and disinfectant prevents bacteria growth. Additionally, sand or clay is added into the water to prop open cracks, allowing gas and oil to continuously leak out.
Finally, after this painstaking process the natural gas and oil can be recovered. Then once the source is exhausted and natural gas or oil can no longer be extracted, the drill hole is permanently sealed.
Disposing of Fracking Water
All this intense pumping and flushing uses an average of 3-6 million gallons of water per well. Although it seems like a big number, it’s nothing compared to what agriculture, power plants, or golf courses use. The only difficult part about the fracking process is the disposal of used fracking water. This water after being used, now contains contaminants like radioactive material, heavy metals, and hydrocarbons which all need to be disposed of.
That is usually done at on-site pits, deep wells or at off-site water treatment facilities. Pit and wells are typically encased in steel and cement to prevent contaminants from leaking into local groundwater. Another option is to recycle the liquid, but this process increases the contamination levels as the water is more toxic with each use.
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