THE DROP IN OIL PRICES BELOW $50 A BARREL this winter has been credited to many factors – economic strug- gles in China, the reduction in turmoil in North Africa, and
greater fuel e;ciency in automobiles
among them. But undeniably, the surge
in U.S. oil production had a major effect. In 2014, the United States produced around 3 billion barrels of oil,
the most it has produced in a generation and a more than 60 percent increase over its production levels of just
a few years before.
That surge is due to unconventional
drilling and completion technologies
that encompass a number of methods,
but which is usually shorthanded as
hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” In
hydraulic fracturing, explosive charges
shatter oil- and gas-bearing strata and
then ;uids pumped at high pressure
force apart the ;ssures and insert ;ne
grains to prop open the cracks to en-
able the petroleum to ;ow out.
The growth in hydraulic fracturing
has not been met with universal praise.
Indeed, in December, New York State
banned the practice on health concerns. Generally, those concerns all
come back to water.
First, the water use is immense. A
typical hydraulic fracturing job re-
quires between 2 million and 5 mil-
lion gallons per well. This poses risks
for depleting groundwater resources,
especially in arid regions where water
is scarce and important to other indus-
tries, such as ranching and agriculture.
Also, before the water is pumped
down the drill hole, a proprietary
mixture of chemicals is added to re-
duce friction, corrosion, and bacte-
rial growth. Local landowners may be
concerned that nearby fracking activ-
ity could contaminate the aquifers they
rely on for drinking water, worries that
are not alleviated by the secret nature
of the chemical brew.
Fracturing’s water problems have led
some companies to look at other ways
to “frack.” Instead of using water as the
main downhole ;uid, these companies
are developing new technologies that
WATERLESS METHODS AIM TO MAKE UNCONVENTIONAL
OIL AND GAS WELLS MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY.