incorporates two key features: 1) the hydraulic fracturing of underground shaleformations usingaspecialized “fracking fluid,” and 2) the use of horizontal well drilling.While this paper uses the term fracking to refer to this extraction process as a whole, inthe following description it is important to distinguish between the separate technical processes of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in order to understand how thistechnologydeveloped and why it has been widely adopted in recent years.The technology of hydraulic fracturing has been used by the oil and gas industrysince 1949 as a means to increase production from oil and gas wells. Although exactnumbers are not available due to the large number of energy developers active, it isestimated that there have been 2.5 million fracture treatments, or “frac jobs,” to date, andthe method is currently used at approximately 60% of all wells drilled today (withmultiple frac jobs performed at each producing well).
The purpose of hydraulicfracturing is to stimulate the release of “tight” oil or gas trapped in subsurface rock formations. After the well has been drilled (in the Marcellus shale, at a depth of 4,000 to8,500 feet), a pipe is inserted and encased in concrete. A perforating gun is then loweredinto the well, and explosives are set off at regular intervals along the pipe to maximizethe number of fractures and interlinkages within the rock.
The hydraulic fracturing process then begins with the injection of a fracking fluid mixture into the wellbore under high pressure. When the fluid reaches the fractures, the oil or gas is agitated andreleased.
In order to keep the fractures open, a compression-resistant substance knownas proppant is injected into the well along with the fracking fluidproper. This processmay be repeated many times at various points along a single well before the oil or gas isallowed to come to the surface. Depending on the size of the well andthe composition of the rock, a single frac job can requireup to five million gallons of fracking fluid,containing over a million pounds of proppants (usually a mixture of sand andchemicals).
A proportion of this mixture is returned to the surface in the form of flowback, sometimes referred to as “produced water,” which consists of the originalfracking fluid and proppant mixture as well as high concentrations of dissolved solidsfrom inside the well. Depending on the siteand methods used, flowback may account for anywhere between 10 to 90 percent of the fluid injected into the well.
While the hydraulic fracturing process has been used to increase the productionfrom oil and gas wells since the late 1940s, the process was not used to access natural gasin shale rock formations until the early 1990s, when the development of new frackingfluid mixtures allowed for the economical extraction of gas from the Barnett shale play inTexas.
Shale gas remained a marginal player in the energy sector until 2003, when the
The term “play” is used within the industry to refer to different shale formationscontaining a significant amount of natural gas