What are hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, and how do they work?
Horizontal Drilling. That’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like—we drill one vertical hole that can then branch out into several horizontal cuts once the correct depth has been achieved. This is an important advancement because it significantly reduces the surface impact of drilling activities by giving access to more of the natural gas formation underground from fewer wells above ground. Thanks to horizontal drilling, today’s average well site is just 30 percent of the size of its 1970s counterpart and can access 60 times more below-ground area. Continued technological advancements mean fewer wells recovering even greater reserves and creating less surface disturbance and waste.
Hydraulic Fracturing. As illustrated below, hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” typically takes place a mile or more below the earth’s surface. Today, the process is minimally invasive and involves drilling a small hole (typically about 15” in diameter), which is lined with multiple layers of steel encased in cement to seal off development activities from any fresh water supplies and to allow for the safe extraction of natural gas. Then pressurized water, sand and additives (less than 0.5 percent of the overall mixture) are used to create small, often millimeter-thick fissures in carefully targeted sections of the shale rock. This releases the natural gas, allowing it to safely rise to the surface within the self-contained system.