Drilling & Fracturing
What is frac’ing? And, is it the same as hydraulic fracturing?
In short, yes. The term “fracking,” which is (supposedly) shorthand for the well completion process of hydraulic fracturing, is actually correctly spelled “frac’ing.” Fracking has become the most used word to describe natural gas from shale deposits, such as the Barnett Shale.
Google “fracking” and you get 10,200,000 links.
Unfortunately, the word fracking appears to be widely misunderstood and misused. In fact, it is being used in ways that have nothing to do with the process of frac’ing. For example, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram used the words “pipelines used for fracking” in a recent article’s title, which is incorrect, since pipelines are not used in frac’ing. It’s a good example of how fracking has become an epithet, not a proper description term.
I asked a few people about the word usage recently. "It's a co-opted word and a co-opted spelling used to make it look as offensive as people can try to make it look," said Michael Kehs, vice president for Strategic Affairs at Chesapeake Energy, the nation's second-largest natural gas producer. To the surviving humans of the sci-fi TV series "Battlestar Galactica," it has nothing to do with oil and gas. It is used as a substitute for the very down-to-earth curse word.
So, to set the record straight, here is a quick primer on frac’ing:
First, frac’ing is a well completion or well stimulation technique actually called hydraulic fracturing. It is not a drilling technique, as is commonly written. The fracturing process consists of pumping a combination of 99.5% water and sand, and .5% chemical additives, into the wellbore under high pressure, creating tiny fractures in the shale to release the natural gas. Frac’ing is done after the drilling rig has been removed.
Second, frac’ing is done after the drilling rig has completed the wellbore and has been removed. The actual process of frac’ing a Barnett Shale natural gas well takes less than a week to complete. At that point, the natural gas produced from the well that was hydraulically fractured is no different than any other natural gas well, regardless of how the well was completed.
Finally, and most importantly, the abundant quantities of natural gas contained in shale deposits have been unlocked by combining hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling. While the combination of these technologies has been used for decades, it was perfected for shales about 10 years ago. The result is a complete change in the energy outlook for the United States, and many countries in the world for that matter.
In the Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (Early Release), the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates:
"The United States possessed 2,214 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of technically recoverable natural gas resources as of January 1, 2010. At the 2010 rate of U.S. consumption of about 24.1 Tcf per year, this is enough to supply over 90 years of natural gas consumption in the United States."
This is why shale gas is being called a “game changer” – and why frac’ing should be viewed as a term of the trade, not an insult.