If finding and producing energy in America were as easy as Jed Clampett and his rifle made it look in the opening credits of the Beverly Hillbillies, we probably wouldn't have needed to pioneer a well stimulation technology known as hydraulic fracturing. But it isn't, and so we did – first using the process in 1947 to stimulate flow of natural gas from the Hugoton field in Kansas.
How successful was that first operation? All these years later, that's still the source of some friendly disagreement – but here's what's not: Over the past six decades, hydraulic fracturing has helped deliver more than 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to American consumers, the product of more than 1.1 million separate and successful fracturing applications during that time.
Today, nearly nine out of 10 onshore wells – natural gas and oil – require fracture stimulation to remain or become viable. And thanks to the emerging revolution in the development of U.S. shale gas, the technology is poised to play an even more important role moving forward – converting America's massive, untapped energy potential into the reality of millions of well-paying jobs, billions in state and federal revenue, and a real path to a clean and affordable energy future.
So how does this process actually work? Well, it starts with a good bit of water and a lot of sand. Mix those two together, apply a couple thousand pounds of pressure, and introduce them to a reservoir several thousand feet below, often with the help of a small percentage of additives that aid in delivering that solution down the hatch.
Then physics takes over. The force of the water creates a network of tiny fissures in the impermeable rock. The flow of water acts as a delivery mechanism for the sand, which finds its way into those newly created cracks and holds them open. This creates passageways through which the previously trapped natural gas can travel to get to the wellbore. The fracturing process is now finished; on average, it takes 3 to 10 days to complete.
Now it's time for the operator to remove the water, clearing the way for the newly stimulated well to produce energy for the next 20, 30, 40, even 50 years. The trucks, the pumps, the equipment, and the traffic that were needed to do the job – they're long gone. The operator typically leaves a production valve and collection equipment behind. The rest of the site is remediated, often within 120 days.
Take some time to view the interactive animation that runs through the basic mechanics of fracturing a well. We've also included links to a number of government and third-party sources with additional information on the technology – where it's used, why it's used, and what independent studies have found, with respect to its safety, history and performance.