The oil and natural gas well completion process that helped spark the country’s ongoing energy boom — and has drawn challenges and protests in parts of the country — this week celebrated its 65th birthday.
While hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has gained considerable attention over the past decade, the process itself is far from new.
The technique was born March 17, 1949, when Halliburton first used large amounts of water to shatter the rock in two test wells deep below Duncan and Archer County, Texas.
More than half a century later, George Mitchell and his Texas-based Mitchell Energy discovered just the right mix of fracking fluids and the right number and type of sections were needed to economically produce the natural gas-rich Barnett Shale near Fort Worth.
Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp. purchased Mitchell in 2002. Devon expanded on Mitchell’s research and combined the practice with horizontal drilling to spark the Shale Boom that rapidly allowed producers to recover oil and natural gas from dense rocks throughout the country.
Among the most successful areas in recent years have been the Permian and Eagle Ford basins in Texas, the Bakken in North Dakota and the Marcellus in the Pennsylvania area.
In Oklahoma, companies have used fracking and horizontal drilling most heavily in the Cana Woodford in the west, the Mississippian in the north and now the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province.
The oil and natural gas industry expansion also has drawn its share of criticism and concern.
A few wells and well casings have failed, allowing natural gas and oil the opportunity to escape and threaten drinking water.
Earthquakes in Ohio have been linked to water injection wells connected with oil and natural gas operations, although not with fracking itself. Scientists are studying whether the rash of temblors in Oklahoma over the past three years have been caused or enhanced by oil and natural gas activity.
Opponents in a few areas have led local efforts to ban fracking. One of the first to ban the effort was Vermont, which boasts little oil or natural gas saturated rock to begin with. That ban is as effective as a restriction against winter ski resorts in Oklahoma.
Other bans have been more successful in stopping the effort. New York state in 2008 banned fracking, effectively preventing the production of the Marcellus Shale that underlies portions of the state.
A few Colorado communities have banned fracking, sparking a challenge between the communities and the governor’s office.
Despite some opposition, hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling and other modern techniques have transformed the oil and natural gas industry and the country’s energy picture. The technology has reversed the country’s decades-long trend of becoming increasingly dependent on the Middle East and other foreign sources of oil and natural gas.
The industry already is looking for the next technology. Companies are testing processes and equipment to make fracking safer and more efficient in hopes of continuing the gains the industry has made.