Do You Know The History of Fracking?

 In 2018, 59% of total oil production in the U.S came from hydraulic fracking, which means it accounted for more than two-thirds of domestically manufactured gas. By 2024, fracking will reach an astounding $68 billion market value! Of course, fracking is not a new drilling method as you can trace it back hundreds of years.

That's why we want to consider the history of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). We will be stating historical facts about it and focusing on the major historical occurrences that have influenced modern-day fracking.

Pre-Fracking Days

The idea of fracking started back in 1862 when Edward A.L. Roberts (Civil War veteran) witnessed Confederate soldiers exploding artillery rounds into a canal that obstructed a battlefield. At the time, Edward A.L. Roberts called it superincumbent fluid tamping.

On April 26th, 1865, Edward A.L. Roberts began experimenting with exploding torpedoes, which consisted of lowering a torpedo containing an amount of powder from fifteen to twenty pounds into a well. Once it was in the right spot, he exploded it through a cap on the torpedo, joined with the top of the shell by a wire.

He then filled the borehole with water (fluid tamping) to concentrate the impact and more efficiently fracture surrounding oil layers. It proved highly successful, and production from some wells increased 1,200% within a week. He then proceeded to patent the exploding torpedo in 1866 (The patent number is 59,936).

As you can imagine, using exploding torpedoes was dangerous, and only using water was not as effective as the fractures created would close up eventually. In 1939, Ira McCullough patented a multiple bullet-shot casing perforator, in which projectiles are shot through the casing and into the formation. While this wasn't the next big step in "fracking," it did lead to creating a more protective casing that greatly enhanced the flow of oil and protected the wellbore.

Image via the American Oil & Gas Historical Society

Birth of Hydraulic Fracturing

It wasn't until 1947 when Floyd Farris of Stanolind Oil and Gas studied the relationship between oil and gas production. His studies led him to understand better the amount of pressurized treatment needed to stop the fractures from closing. He then experimented with hydraulic fracturing, which consisted of 1,000 gallons of gelled gasoline and sand being injected into a gas-producing limestone formation.

Even though the experiment failed to increase production, it did start more investigation on the matter, and in 1949 Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company acquired a patent for hydraulic fracturing. They carried out two successful commercial hydraulic fracturing treatments later that same year. Following Halliburton's success, fracking became commercially popular with operators such as Pan American Petroleum (Stanolind Oil and Gas's successor.)

Over the years, water and gelling agents replaced napalm and other petroleum products in the injection process. The mid-60s saw the first hydraulic fracturing of shale formations (shale is a geological rock formation rich in clay, typically derived from fine sediments, deposited at the bottom of seas or lakes, having then been buried throughout millions of years). Operators first successfully fracked the Ohio & Cleveland Shale and, from then, consistently improved production from lower-yielding wells.

Horizontal Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing

During the late 1970s, hydraulic fracture became increasingly challenging to exploit. That is until George P. Mitchell, whose company took the pioneering step into the hydraulic fracturing of shales on a scale that had previously not been attempted. 

His company began to perform horizontal drilling while using hydraulic fracturing. By utilizing horizontal drilling, operators could further exploit resources, thus increasing production.

Hydraulic Fracturing and The Digital Age

In the early 1990s, researchers greatly improved microseismic monitoring, a technology first introduced in the 80s, which allowed for more practical application of hydraulic fracturing to a well. Finally, in 2000, the Barnett Shale was successfully mapped using microseismic imaging, which started the hydraulic fracturing we know today.

In 2003 hydraulic fracturing took an unprecedented turn since it saw the beginning of the independent operator's golden age. Privately backed firms began buying up substantial amounts of acreage across the continental United States. Since then, fracking produces 9-10m barrels per day and is expected to increase further.

More Is To Come with Hydraulic Fracturing

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the history of fracking. Of course, many smaller details led to modern fracking, but we highlighted the main ones in this article. In the next article, we will discuss what fracking is, as it's something many people don't fully understand.

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