What is Fracking?

Due to the ever-increasing price of crude oil, Americans have been forced to search for new oil sources at home. It has become much easier to reach the oil deposits now than in the past thanks to two fairly new processes — horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a technique used in addition to horizontal drilling to break up non-porous materials like shale in order to reach the oil inside.

First a vertical drill goes straight down drilling past the water table, so as not to contaminate the water supply. From there a horizontal drill makes an arc at the bottom that will eventually level out and become horizontal. Once the bore is complete, a wire lowers the perforating gun to the correct section of the horizontal portion of the well bore. An electrical current is sent down the wire and when it gets to the perforating gun, which is a long metal piece that looks kind of like a flute, it sets off a charge that goes through the holes in the gun that in turn shoots tiny holes through the casing, cement and into the shale. This action is repeated in stages until the entire length of the horizontal bore is complete.

Then the true fracking begins. A mixture of sand, fresh water and chemicals is forced down into the casing at very high pressure, pushing it through the holes and into the rock causing the shale to fracture. Large quantities of water are used for this process – about a million gallons per well. Once the hydraulic fracturing process is complete the released oil can flow up the well bore to the wellhead where it will be pumped into storage tanks. Later is can be transported by tanker truck to the nearest terminal for transloading into rail cars that will then take the oil to a refinery.

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