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2. How does fracking work?Submitted by MikeChalberg on Mon, 2012-04-30 15:06
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Fracking is the common name used to describe the process of hydraulic fracturing. The technique is used to extract natural gas, and less frequently petroleum, from deep below the earth's surface. Despite it being the current buzzword surrounding America's natural gas and oil companies, the process was invented in the 1940s and patented by Halliburton. Further development of the technique has opened the door to deeper reservoirs and other areas which were previously deemed to be unreachable. High-volume fracking, to be discussed later in this FAQ, was not developed until the 1990s and is the target of the most criticism.
Fracking targets natural gas contained in two types of rock - shale formations and coal beds. Normally, natural gas is collected by trapping it following its release from naturally occurring fissures in the rock. But the most heavily concentrated and richest natural gas deposits are found in reservoirs deep in the earth and thoroughly protected by thick shale rock.
Natural gas is primarily methane. Indeed, once the gas gets to your home for use, it is almost pure methane. But the initial composition usually contains several other gases.
As the technical name suggests, fracking consists of injecting a liquid at extremely high pressures causing the rock to partially split. Once the fissures in the rock are large enough, the natural gas can leak upwards to be collected and stored.
The process begins by installing the first drill to create the main wellbore (the hole). The initial wellbore is rather superficial. The majority of the drilling is actually done by the liquid pumped into the rock. This liquid is continually injected into the rock until the fissure is both wide and deep enough. In order to facilitate a continual release of natural gas some sort of solid solution, usually sand, is injected following the liquid. This solution, called a proppant, keeps the fissures from closing back up.
Fracking was designed to reach natural gas in some of the more remote geologic regions. Some natural gas rigs drill miles beneath the surface. Fracking wells are usually bigger and deeper than traditional natural gas wells. Fracking rigs typically are between one and four miles deep. Moreover, the rigs are able to drill at many different angles. Unlike a traditional drill which could only move vertically, these new rigs can drill horizontally, vertically and diagonally. This maximizes the amount of shale formations that can be fracked while minimizing the total area above ground taken up by the surface rigs. It also enables the rigs to reach natural gas that is contained under environmentally protected or other areas which are not accessible by conventional drilling. Currently, some rigs are able to drill up to two miles horizontally.