History of hydraulic fracturing

The idea of breaking up rock formations to expedite oil and gas flow into a well is not a new one. As early as the 1860s, black powder or nitroglycerin was detonated in wells to stimulate oil, gas, and water flow. This dangerous, but often successful method was called “shooting” a well. Injecting non-explosive acids into wells was first attempted in the 1930s to create and maintain fractures in reservoir rocks.

Modern hydraulic fracturing treatments were first developed and used by Stanolind Oil and Gas Corporation in 1947 on a Kansas gas well. Stanolind’s “Hydrafrac” process became patented and commercial in 1949. That same year, Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company acquired a license for the Hydrafrac process and applied it to 332 wells. The large production increases seen from hydraulic fracturing led to its rapid and widespread application throughout the oil and gas industry.

Hydraulic fracturing today

Currently, the United States is going through an oil and gas boom from unconventional reservoirs. Tight sands, shale gas, and shale oil reservoirs were previously uneconomic due to their lower permeability and porosity and distribution of the oil and gas throughout the pore spaces of the reservoir rock, instead of in a defined (conventional) pool. But directional and horizontal drilling methods, coupled with hydraulic fracturing, are now allowing oil and gas operators to tap into these large unconventional oil and gas reserves. Hydraulic fracturing may account for a 30 percent and 90 percent increase in U.S. recoverable reserves of oil and gas, respectively.

Because of its success, hydraulic fracturing will continue to be a standard industry practice. According to the American Petroleum Institute, hydraulic fracturing has been used on over 1 million wells in the United States and led to the production of more than 7 billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 35,000 wells in the United States are hydraulically fractured each year. Halliburton estimates that approximately nine out of 10 onshore natural gas and oil wells will need to be hydraulically fractured to maintain their production rates.

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