To Frac or Not to Frac? Is it Even a Question?

You've likely heard about the highly controversial subject of hydraulic fracturing — referred to as fracking by today's media — at one point or another within the last few years.

But contrary to popular belief, it's only fairly recently that the fractious row began over this drilling technique. Hydraulic fracturing has actually been around for over six decades. Oil and natural gas companies frac to create fractures in a rock formation; they do this by blasting the rock with a high volume of water, proppant (sand, in most cases), and chemicals. Mixtures can differ from company to company, but the typical makeup of frac fluid is about 99 percent water and sand, with the rest consisting of a variety of chemicals.

Even though fracturing technology dates back as far as the U.S. Civil War, it wasn't until 1949 that the Stanolind Oil used hydraulic fracturing on a well in Kansas. More and more companies followed suit. Today, more than a million wells have been fracked since Stanolind successfully did it in Kansas. So why is there so much public outrage now, after the technology has been in use for so long?

It's likely because for the first time in history, hydraulic fracturing is standing front and center in a U.S. oil and natural gas production boom. You have to understand how critical hydraulic fracturing is to tight oil and gas production (shale). True to its namesake, a tight rock formation has extremely low permeability, which means the oil and natural gas doesn't flow freely. Thus, companies will utilize hydraulic fracturing technology to successfully "crack" the rock and extract the resource.

Of course, shale drilling has reached a feverish pitch today, with horizontal wells (the telltale sign of shale production) accounting for over 60 percent of the total wells drilled in the U.S.

And U.S. reliance on fracking doesn't end there. Haliburton estimates that 90 percent of all onshore oil and natural gas wells need some form of fracture stimulation to be economical. In the future, U.S. oil and natural gas production will become even more dependent on hydraulic fracturing. The Energy Information Administration reported in its latest Annul Energy Outlook that shale — both oil and natural gas — will account for virtually all of U.S. production growth between now and 2040.

Referring back to the title of this article, perhaps a more realistic question to ask is whether we can afford not to frac.

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