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Fracking What Makes it Tick? Demystifying the Why’s, Technology and Science behind Unconventional Oil and Shale Gas Extraction

September 24, 2014

witch brewFracking What Makes it Tick? Demystifying the Why’s, Technology and Science behind Unconventional Oil and Shale Gas Extraction

A long title for something going on for about 150 years; and yet the topic of much controversy and confusion.

Contrary to what some may believe, hydrofracturing is not the midnight shadows of witches dancing around a fiery cauldron brewing a magical potion of strange and spell binding ingredients to be forced into the bowels of earth to cause death and destruction throughout the world.

Hydraulic fracturing is, however, a highly technical process to create or restore small fractures in an underground rock formation by pumping a scientifically derived mixture of fluids and materials at an injection rate that is too high for the formation to accept.  As the resistance to flow in the formation increases, the pressure in the wellbore increases to a value that exceeds the breakdown pressure of the formation. Once the formation “breaks-down”, a crack or fracture is formed, the injected fluid begins moving into the fracture then out of the well to allow the entrapped gas to flow out of the borehole.

Hydraulic fracturing is used to extend the life of wells in mature oil and gas fields. It also allows for the recovery of oil and natural gas from formations that geologists once believed were impossible to produce, such as tight sand and shale formations.

Historically, fracturing can be traced to the 1860s, when liquid, and later, solidified, nitroglycerin was used to stimulate shallow, hard rock oil wells in Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

Yet, the methods used to recover oil and gas resources from reserves that do not give up their oil or gas easily, have always had a “black box” image. This is partly due to the knowledge about these methods, which occur thousands of feet below the surface are generally controlled by specialists and engineers out of the reach of the public domain.

To fill in this in this information gap, I conducted a webinar on the advanced technologies used to recovery oil and gas from unconventional rock formations. The presentation began with a review of the qualitative aspects of unconventional recovery methods and then built, piece-by-piece a semi-quantitative framework for the design of a hydrofracturing treatment. The discussion introduced the engineering principles, scientific theories, rock mechanics, design methods and science used to perform a successfully and highly productive treatment that protects public health, safety, and the environment.

The objective of the webinar was to improve the public’s technical understanding and appreciation of the technology and science behind unconventional recovery and hydraulic fracturing. Success depended on showing fracking is safe and by no mean haphazard and reckless and not reminiscent of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique Fifth movement: “Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath.”




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