From Oil Exploration to Land Restoration

Ever wondered how long it takes for each stage of the fracking process? We recently posted a video that goes into more depth on the entire extraction process. The infographic below gives a more broad view of the steps involved.


For more on understanding the oil markets click here. The American Petroleum Institute gives a good overview on the supply and demand of crude oil and international/financial markets.

What the frack is fracking anyway? There are three stages for Shale Gas fracking as outlined in our previous posts:

Part 1: On the Surface

Part 2: Down the Hole

Part 3: The Results 

 

oil exploration production restoration stages drilling infographic

Stages of Shale Gas and Oil: From Exploration to Restoration. CLICK TO ENLARGE (image labeled for reuse).

 

For further reading see our Incomplete Guide to hydraulic fracturing.

 

 

How is oil and gas extracted? What does the fracking process entail? The American Petroleum Institute (API) produced a very informative video that explains the process and the steps involved.

 

Recent innovations combining this technology with horizontal drilling in shale formations has unlocked vast new supplies of natural gas, allowing the nation to get to the energy it needs today, and transforming our energy future.

 

http://www.api.org/policy-and-issues/policy-items/hf/hydraulic-fracturing-safe-oil-natural-gas-extraction

As promised earlier, we’ve now arrived at the final installment of our three-part series, “What the Frack is Fracking?” Part 1 dealt with what’s needed to begin fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, operations above ground before drilling begins. Part 2 went on to explain what occurs “down the hole” as the drilling starts and the fracking process is put into full operation.

We left off with the oil and gas resources that had once been trapped underground coming up the wellbore and out the wellhead to be collected or piped to appropriate locations. Excess fracking fluid, known as “flowback” liquid, also returns to the wellhead where it’s collected to then be reused, recycled or delivered to treatment facilities.

From Scarcity To Abundance

Over the last ten years, the U.S. has undergone a remarkable energy transformation whereby we’ve gone from being a major energy importer to being one of the major producers of oil and natural gas in the world. This has been due primarily to the new technologies developed for use in hydraulic fracturing. Although the process of hydraulic fracturing has been around since the 1940s, for decades it wasn’t economically feasible to pursue on any large scale.

Not until the 1990s, when discovery of the efficacy of horizontal drilling was made, did the economics involved indicate that new fracking technologies and processes could be used to a profitable degree.

Not only has hydraulic fracturing become an outstanding source of cheap energy but is now providing thousands of jobs across the country and bringing financial relief to small communities everywhere. It’s estimated that more than two million jobs are currently being supported within the hydraulic fracturing industry and that, in the next decade, that number could easily double. Cheap energy from shale, suddenly now abundant, is also helping to fuel a resurgence in manufacturing the U.S. and, for individual families, lower natural gas prices are saving typical families as much as $1000 or more per month.


What’s Down There?

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), there exists as much as 750-trillion cubic ft of natural gas and 24 billion barrels of oil that are hidden underground in shale rock and remain potentially recoverable. Without hydraulic fracturing, this valuable, precious resource would continue to remain out of reach.

For the first time in nearly two decades our country has again gotten to the point that it’s able to produce more fossil fuel than it imports from elsewhere. And, as an added benefit, the country’s carbon pollution footprint is the lowest it’s been in 20 years. In the last decade, no other country out there has lowered their total carbon pollution output more than we’ve done here in America.


Who’s Benefiting?

A recent study shows that America’s hydraulic fracturing business is responsible for significant savings for consumers at the pump to the tune of billions of dollars in 2013.

Another recent study (2014), also undertaken by API, the American Petroleum Industry, revealed that the proven technologies of hydraulic fracturing, used in conjunction with horizontal well drilling, is now being employed in every single state in the U.S. and that America has now become the world’s #1 producer of natural gas. If the current trend continues, we’ll also lead the international community in oil production by 2016.

While the hydraulic fracturing of deep-seated shale rock is now being successfully accomplished all over the world, here in the United States it’s become a virtual boom. It’s brought much needed relief from our dependence on foreign oil and the high cost of energy.

Welcome to your second installment in the three-part series, “What the Frack is Fracking?” Part one began by defining the term fracking, also known as hydraulic fracking or fracturing, and discussed why hydraulic fracking is an important process being used by oil and gas companies worldwide. It then went into a brief history of hydraulic fracturing and examined the things needed to begin the process, starting with the materials, equipment and logistics required up on the ground’s surface before any drilling takes place below ground.

Once oil or gas is determined to exist underground at a certain location and the construction site needed to support the fracking operation has been built, it’s time to start drilling down. The wellbore, which is the term used for the vertical hole that’ll be made into the earth, will eventually be topped with a wellhead. This wellhead becomes the support anchor needed during pumping and extraction. The wellbore will be surrounded by a casing, constructed before drilling commences.

How Far Down For Successful Hydraulic Fracking?

Hydraulic fracking, although in use commercially for more than 65 years, has become more precise and efficient as new technologies continually improve the process. It’s called hydraulic fracking because water is used as the active agent for producing the fractures needed for the retrieval of hidden oil and gas resources. Typically, a horizontally-running shale bed is the best candidate for hydraulic fracking. Shale commonly has gas and oil locked within its structure, the release of which is the goal of hydraulic fracking.

The fracking process involves drilling first vertically to the depth of the expected rock formation believed to be holding oil/gas resources. Many shale deposits exist at depths of between 2,000 and 10,000 feet, although they’re considerably shallower in some areas. As the wellbore is being drilled to the required depth, a steel-pipe casing is inserted into the hole a section at a time and cemented into position. This cement isolates the casing, protecting surrounding groundwater from any gas or oil leakage from the well.

From Vertical to Horizontal

Once the correct vertical depth has been reached, the drilling efforts are then turned to a horizontal drilling process, meant to follow parallel to the natural horizontal fracturing of the shale deposit, or “play.” The length of this horizontal run can basically be any distance desired, and may often be as long or longer than the wellbore is deep. The metal casing continues to surround this horizontal hole being drilled and, once set in concrete, is ready to be perforated. Small charges are set to blow small holes through the casing and cement and into the shale. Fracking fluid, previously described in part 1, is then pumped under high pressure into the well. This fluid makes its way out through the perforations (perfs), causing the shale to fracture.

This fracking fluid is approximately 90% water, 9% sand (or ceramic beads) and 1% chemicals used to increase viscosity, kill microorganisms, reduce friction and inhibit metal corrosion. The sand, called a propant, serves the function of getting into the fractures caused under high-pressure fluid injection and “propping” them open once the pressure has been relieved. Oil and gas freed up through this hydraulic fracking process then flows back up through the wellbore and out the wellhead.

Why Hydraulic Fracking?

Hydraulic fracking is a means for gas and oil producers to retain maximum return for their investment. As we slowly use up the fuels easily obtained from underground sources, fracking provides an effective, efficient means of recouping lost stocks that would, otherwise, remain untapped. Stay tuned for Part 3, “The Results.”

The American Gas Association or AGA posted the following infographic which very neatly shows the estimated remaining supply of Natural Gas in the USA. The report was produced this year by the PGC.

“The United States possesses a large and growing domestic abundance of natural gas. The biennial report, “Potential Supply of Natural Gas in the United States,” developed by the Potential Gas Committee (PGC), details the nation’s total technically recoverable resource base of natural gas, which provides the foundation for stable prices, customer savings, energy security and more.”

future supply gas fracking us aga american gas association

 


 

Advanced Measurements is proud to provide our data vans and control instruments across the United States of America. Our Hydraulic Frac Control Automation and Data Van Management Suite help companies all over the world generate and interpret customized reports.

Hydraulic fracking has been around for several decades. First used in the 1940’s, fracking is the term used when oil and gas companies use a procedure that fractures oil and gas wells. This is a common practice with many oil companies across North America. It is used in areas where there are extensive amounts of shale or sand that prohibit the “free flow” of gas or oil from where it rests to the surface. The following fracking facts detail the process and explain how it works.

Fracking On-site

The process uses hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling to open up pathways within the densely packed shale and sand and allow the oil and gas to move along the created pathways to the surface. The process starts with a hole or “wellbore” being drilled straight down. After it reaches a certain depth, horizontal drilling begins to break up or clear a path that runs parallel to the shale. This gives the oil and gas a path to follow that is not restricted. Once the hole is made, it is lined with metal to prohibit the chemicals and by products from leaching into the soil near the well.

Small charges are set off throughout the tunnel to create small holes that allow the gas to enter the wellbore, allowing it to be brought to the surface. The metal casing that is used to line the pipe has several small holes in areas where natural fuel reserves are thought to be located. When exploring fracking fracts, it is important to understand the importance of the metal casing and how it is used to create a network for the oil and gas reserves to follow.

Liquid Fracturing Mixtures

A fracturing liquid is injected into these areas in an attempt to break up the tightly packed shale and sand and release the gas and oil. As the area becomes saturated with the liquid the injection holes remain open letting the gas and oil pass easily through. Fracturing mixtures normally contain water, proppants and different chemicals. In some cases gases may be used instead of liquid.

A few interesting fracking facts to keep you thinking:

  • Horizontal drilling is around 4 times more productive than vertical.
  • Most wells are drilled to the 10,000 foot mark where oil is most commonly found.

How to define hydraulic fracturing is one of the biggest questions oil and gas companies are commonly asked. As demand for energy around the world grows, hydraulic fracturing is driving this oil and gas boom. Hydraulic fracturing technology is crucial for energy firms to produce the resources demanded by customers to power their homes, businesses and cities. While players in the oil and gas industry may be familiar with the term, they may be wondering how to define hydraulic fracturing and what it will mean for energy production in the future. 

So how do companies define hydraulic fracturing?  Lets start by examining the various components involved in the process.

There are several steps involved in hydraulic fracturing. The first is what happens on the surface, then what happens when the hole down in the earth is formed and finally, the results of the fracking process. This article explains the basic components of fracking at the surface (stay tuned for future blog posts – Parts 2 and 3). 

Companies often define hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a recovery method that unlocks oil and gas deposits found in shale formations by injecting a blend of fluid into the ground to form cracks in the formation.  These cracks increase the permeability of the formation to improve the release of oil and gas into the wellbore. Before creating the cracks in the petroleum bearing rock formations surrounding resources, companies will need to explore and prepare for production.

Exploring for Resources

To fully define hydraulic fracturing, learning about the history of this technique is important. 

While other oil recovery techniques made it expensive to drill wells that go deep within the earth – in turn increasing the cost of production and price per barrel of oil or its equivalent – fracking emerged as a cost-effective solution to boost output of wells.

Fracking was introduced in 1947 as an experiment before it was finally adopted commercially in 1950. Since then, fracking has come a long way.

To determine whether land has oil and gas deposits, first companies must engage in the exploration of hydrocarbon resources before they test out wells. Oil and gas exploration typically involves performing geologic studies and using various technologies to gauge the recovery and output potential of deposits hidden in shale formations. 

Constructing the Work Site

After finding evidence of oil and gas deposits underground, companies will build out the oil and gas site for production operations. This includes setting up the equipment, vehicles and storage units necessary to recover resources. 

Beginning to Drill the Well

Companies also need to build infrastructure for oil and gas production, including the wellbore and casing. The wellbore, or the hole drilled into the resource bearing formation, is constructed before the well. At the surface of the well is the wellhead, which functions to support the casing and tubing strings as well as give operators control over the pressure during the drilling process. 

Mixing the Fracking Fluid

Furthermore, to undertake hydraulic fracturing, a special blend of fracking fluid is needed. Fracking fluid is a combination of base fluid, a proppant and a specific blend of chemicals. Fundamentally, the fracking fluid is sand and water.  Energy firms mix a custom blend of fracking fluid  to inject into the ground in order to optimize the creation of fractures to access oil and gas of the specific resources. 

Base fluid and Proppant

The base fluid is often made with water, but can also be made with oil, methanol, liquid carbon dioxide and liquefied petroleum gas. Proppant is essentially sand designed to ‘prop’ open the fractures that are created during the production process, or else the fractures might close again once the pressure is released.  Crystalline silica sand is a popular proppant, as are solid or ceramic materials .

Chemicals

Additive chemicals serve several purposes and are usually solvents, acids, gelling agents., and friction reducers These chemicals are used to reinforce the oil and gas formation.


 

So what the frack is fracking? You should have a much better idea what the process looks like now. Keep an eye on the Advanced Measurements blog for Part 2: “What the Frack is Fracking: Down The Hole.”

 

With the seemingly never-ending search for hydrocarbons to fuel economic growth and quality of life around the world, hydraulic fracturing has experienced massive growth in North America, and grows in importance in the rest of the world.

The technological know-how to extract oil and natural gas from low permeability formations, such as shale, tight sands, and coal bed methane deposits, has taken the world overnight from a possible energy crisis to the current oversupply scenario. Fracturing has changed the landscape of the energy supply/demand equation and will likely ensure sufficient energy supplies for the remainder of the century.  However, the very success of the industry has led to the current oversupply of oil & gas, as well as increased scrutiny by regulators and the public.

Take Ownership of Government Fracturing Regulations

Although hydraulic fracturing has been around since the 1940’s, widespread success and adoption of the procedure has propelled it into the forefront of environmental debates. Consequently oil and gas operators must consider a number of stakeholders –many which have competing interest — including resource owners, customers, employees, shareholders, the environment, and the public interest.

Similar to any ground-breaking technology or procedures introduced in the industry, the exploration, extraction, and development of North America’s shale oil & gas resources through fracking has led to plenty of discussions about the impact of fracking.

With new government fracturing laws guaranteed to multiply and to become stricter, oil industry executives must make the shrewd adjustments in a very contentious environment.  Company decision-makers need to appreciate the impact of the political, environmental and legal climates in influencing government laws related to fracking and subsequent litigation.  Those who do will gain competitive advantage over companies that fail to get ahead of the wave.

Be Proactive in Employing Best Practices

Smart operators accept the inevitability of additional government frac regulations going forward. Consequently these oil and gas executives go beyond the requirements of current regulations and compliance — they operate their businesses using cutting edge best practices, including:

  1. Putting in place a dedicated compliance group to not only ensure that their operations adhere to local regulations, but also to promote standardization across the company regardless of the jurisdiction, which increases organizational cost-effectiveness and efficiency.
  2. Incorporating business processes that addresses environmental and public health concerns regardless of whether it’s required in the jurisdiction.
  3. Consideration of non-toxic chemical alternatives to current fracking chemicals.
  4. Employing innovative technologies to make operations more effective and to track and record data related to operations for future, or to comply with future regulations.

Most government fracturing regulations will be tailored to geological and local requirements. By anticipating trends, refining techniques, and adopting best practices, oil and gas operators enhance their position as thought leaders empathetic to the need for safe and environmentally-friendly practices, which will make it easier to influence and thrive under future government fracturing regulations.

The debates raging about hydraulic fracturing are many. Yet, one of the more perplexing debates isn’t one about technology related to hydraulic fracturing, but a question about spelling. The word in question is frac, or is it frack?

Geography seems to play a bit of a role in determining how it gets spelled. In Canada, for example, the preferred spelling is “frac.” Cross the border into the U.S and, as if by some dark linguistic voodoo, the letter K appears at the end of the word.

Some of the explanation for the disparity in spelling the across the border might be a simple matter of industry usage and exposure to the term. Natural gas and oil companies use the term frac, without the K, as a diminutive version of the term hydraulic _frac_turing. As Canadian shale oil production is still comparatively young, the industry default may be taking hold as the common spelling.

Some of the blame for early uncertainty about the shortened version of hydraulic fracturing can be laid at the feet of phonetics. The word frac is pronounced with a soft “a” and a hard “c.” Under normal phonetic rules, the word seems to need a “ck,” like the words “back” or “track.” Leaving the “k” off suggests a pronunciation with a hard “a” and a soft “c,” such as “race” or “place.” One would definitely not pronounce “fracing” with a hard “c”. Left to their own devices and with little official guidance, writers and people expression opinions about hydraulic fracturing presumably added the “k” to correspond with the given pronunciation.

What about Google?

Search engines also indirectly contributed to the confusion. Search engines organize and rank content, in part, on the basis of the keyword terms people employ when they conduct online searches. As “frack” took root in common parlance, more and more people used it to try to find information about hydraulic fracturing. Search engines like Google ranked websites and articles using “frack” higher than sites and articles using the industry-correct “frac.” In doing so, however unintentionally, the search engines provided credence for the misspelling.

The final nails in the coffin for the k-less version of the term were driven in by none other than the Associated Press and Merriam-Webster. Back in 2012, the AP Stylebook — journalists’ professional Bible — decreed “fracking” the officially-sanctioned, correct spelling of the diminutive of hydraulic fracturing. The widespread appearance of the ck-version in media outlets almost certainly contributes to its commonality in the US. Earlier this year, though, dictionary company Merriam-Webster also put its stamp of approval on “fracking” and added it to the dictionary.

The question, it seems, has been answered. Even if oil and natural gas professionals continue to use the k-less spelling in reference to hydraulic fracturing, as they almost certainly will out of sheer force of habit or a term of art, it’s a battle lost in the court of public opinion. The blessing of the ck-spelling by the AP and Merriam-Webster has almost guaranteed that, moving forward, the industry will more readily accept that the word is spelled “frack.” Even so Advanced Measurements chooses to stay outside the world norm and use the spelling more common in the oil industry. Frac it is!

To celebrate our 25 year anniversary, we’re excited to be in a special feature in this month’s Business In Calgary magazine. See page 97 for the article “25 Years of Uptime” in the July, 2014 issue on newstands and in offices across Alberta. Calgary is a great place to live and work, and a great place to be from when doing business globally!

To read the full article:

  1. Download this .PDF (5 pages): BIC_July2014_lo_Advanced_Measurements_25_Years_of_Uptime.PDF
  2. Go to Business in Calgary’s online magazine, page 97: http://issuu.com/businessincalgary/docs/bic_july2014_lo/97

Or, use this viewer:

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