Although gas and oil drilling has been active for several decades now, modern drilling technologies has been unlocking more and more untapped oil reserves which were challenging to do in the past. The marriage of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the most effective modern methods for oil and gas drilling, has taken center stage and has been dominating shale plays in the United States.
To better understand why hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are effective drilling methods, we may need to look at how oil and gas are trapped underground. Previously untapped oil reserves may have been challenging to drill in the past because of poor permeability and damages from previous drilling attempts.
Also called fracking and hydrofracturing, this is a stimulation method which produces cracks on the shale formation. This frees trapped oil and gas, allowing them to flow more freely. Hydraulic fracturing is performed by drilling a target area and inserting a steel casing into the wellbore. This casing is injected with a combination of water, chemicals and proppants into the target areas. When this mixture reaches the oil reserve, very high pressure builds and causes fractures to the formation. When these fractures occur, oil and gas flow through the cracks. The injection is stopped and removed while the remaining proppants linger in the target zones to hold the cracks open.
Horizontal drilling is a scientific innovation that deviates from now obsolete vertical drilling. The concept of horizontal drilling is to set up pipes underground, usually a hundred feet away from the target formation. The process begins with vertical drilling, but it doesn’t drill through thousands of feet underground. Instead, the hydraulic motor drills through sideways or in a lateral angle that strategically follows the formation of target rocks. Recent horizontal drilling technologies allow workers to remotely control the drilling with the aid of real-time devices, sending images to a computer for a more precise navigation underground.
Impacts of Horizontal Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing to the US Shale Boom
Horizontal drilling is usually followed by hydraulic fracturing. Together, these two technologies have been untapping oil reserves that significantly contributed to the US oil boom. For instance, tiny pore spaces in Marcellus Shale in Appalachian Basin and Barnett Shale in Texas have been proliferated by these technologies and are now turned to generous sources of oil in the country.
Industry experts believe that the US shale boom was jumpstarted and is continued to be sustained by the merger of these two technologies. It is estimated that with both technologies, domestic oil and gas production could increase by 20% in five years time and within a decade, the country could be cutting half of its present import. Aside from production, the introduction of modern drilling technologies also helped secure employment especially in oil field drilling sites and increase the confidence of high returns for direct oil investors and foreign business investors who wish to set up plants in the country.
Creating like a domino effect, the US oil boom is creating waves of positive impacts from the consumers and economy to the goal of energy independence, many thanks to hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.