What is Fracking?
Fracking is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, a type of drilling that has been used commercially for 65 years. Today, the combination of advanced hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, employing cutting-edge technologies, is mostly responsible for surging U.S. oil and natural gas production.
Hydraulic fracturing involves safely tapping shale and other tight-rock formations by drilling a mile or more below the surface before gradually turning horizontal and continuing several thousand feet more. Thus, a single surface site can accommodate a number of wells. Once the well is drilled, cased and cemented, small perforations are made in the horizontal portion of the well pipe, through which a typical mixture of water (90 percent), sand (9.5 percent) and additives (0.5 percent) is pumped at high pressure to create micro-fractures in the rock that are held open by the grains of sand. Additives play a number of roles, including helping to reduce friction (thereby reducing the amount of pumping pressure from diesel-powered sources, which reduces air emissions) and prevent pipe corrosion, which in turn help protect the environment and boost well efficiency.
Safe hydraulic fracturing is the biggest single reason America is having an energy revolution right now, one that has changed the U.S. energy picture from scarcity to abundance. Fracking is letting the U.S. tap vast oil and natural gas reserves that previously were locked away in shale and other tight-rock formations. Up to 80 percent of natural gas wells drilled in the next decade will require hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing also is being used to stimulate new production from older wells.
Because of shale and fracking, the International Energy Agency projects that the U.S. could become the world’s leading oil producer by 2015. As for natural gas, the United States is the leading producer in the world, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA estimates total U.S. gas production from 2012 to 2040 will increase 56 percent, with natural gas from shale the leading contributor. The shale gas share of total U.S. production will increase from 40 percent in 2012 to 53 percent in 2040, EIA projects. Simply put, fracking is the engine in the U.S. energy revolution.