Ever wondered to yourself, “What is hydraulic-fracturing?” Would you like to have hydraulic fracturing explained in simple terms? Hydraulic fracturing (aka hydro-fracking) involves the use of 4 new technologies. Learn in this piece how what hydraulic fracturing is and how the process works (in simple terms) and the basis of some of the unknown full risks of fracking.
Here is How Hydraulic Fracturing Works and What It Is
Conventional natural gas extraction involves drilling downward into a large pocket of natural gas and then extracting the gas.
Hydraulic fracturing (what is also known as hydro-fracking), in contrast, is the process of drilling a bore hole into a geological formation that contains microscopic pockets of natural gas and then fracturing (thus the term “fracking”) the formation so that the natural gas can escape into the bore hole and be drawn to the surface. In hydraulic fracturing, large volumes of fracking water are used.
Extracting millions of microscopic pockets is significantly different than extracting one large pocket. This is the main difference between conventional methods and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.
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Hydraulic fracturing is employing four new technologies. As with any new technology, the consequences and unintended side-effects of new hydraulic fracturing technologies are not well known.
Hydraulic Fracturing: 4 New Technologies
Hydraulic fracturing uses 4 brand new technologies. The technology for hydraulic fracturing is being developed very rapidly and, in fact, at a pace that is outstripping government regulatory capability.
Essentially, since the technologies are new, we don’t yet understand the full implications. While government regulators try to build their understanding of the process and the potential risks so that they can implement policy to manage risk, industry generally tries to maintain secrecy and limit the power of our regulatory agents to protect us and the environment.
The technologies are:
Hydraulic Fracturing Technology 1: Directional Drilling
With hydraulic fracturing typically a well is drilled in the range of 5000-7000 feet vertically down. Next the drill-head turns and follows a lateral layer (often around 100 feet thick) of shale for many more thousands of feet. The bore is typically around 4″-6″ in diameter. Next, explosive charges are placed in the bore and set off to fracture the casing so that gas can get into the bore.
Hydraulic Fracturing Technology 2: High Volumes of Fracking Water
Conventional gas wells typically may use around 100,000 gallons of fracking water. Hydraulic fracturing wells on the other hand may use millions of gallons of fracking water. (That is a lot of fluid!)
Relative to environmental concerns, the much higher volume of fracking water presents the challenges of storage, transportation and recycling. At each of these stages environmental risks are present and, due to the high volume of fracking water, are significantly higher than in conventional natural gas wells.
Hydraulic Fracturing Technology 3: Fracking Slick Water
The purpose of the fluids used in hydraulic fracturing are to penetrate the cracks in the casing
and in the shale, to force them slightly more open, and to force sand into the cracks to maintain their open condition so that gas can seep through the sand and into the bore. This fluid is called hydraulic fracking water or slick water.
As it turns out, water alone just won’t do the trick. The water must be filled with chemicals to make this process work well. One of the functions of the chemicals is to lubricate the fracking water so that it can be pumped down this very long and very narrow bore and maintain high pressure and the end of the bore.
Lubrication is required because fluids lose pressure due to friction as they pass through a pipe. We are talking a long ways down a tiny pipe, and fracking needs around 6,000-10,000 psi of pressure. (For reference, your household water supply may be in the range of 30-50 psi.) Achieving that pressure requires in some case around 30,000-40,000 horsepower. (Now, in case you missed it – that’s a lot of energy being consumed.)
After this process is complete, the fracking water is removed and in some cases stored in ponds where companies assure us it will never leak or leach. In other cases the fracking water is stored in tanks where companies assure us it will never leak or leach. In some still other cases the fracking water is transported (millions of gallons, mind you) by trucks that companies tell us will never crash into the river, where it can be recycled.
The process of “removing” fracking water is only partially successful. Generally speaking, around 30% – 70% of fracking water is in fact not possible to remove, and so, it remain permanently in the environment.
Hydraulic Fracturing Technology 4: Multi-pad Fracking Wells
hydraulic fracturing requires a LOT of wells. This is where multi-pad hydraulic fracturing wells come in. The Marcellus Shale (New York, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and under the Great Lakes) is seeing construction of around 4-5 wells per day, ramping up to 3,000-5,000 per year with the expected total to reach around perhaps 40,000 wells.
This video produced by CNN explains how fracking works. See the guy’s faucet exploding (at about 1:45) from the methane in his tap water.