The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Fracking and Innovation

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted November 4, 2013

In his New York Times review of Gregory Zuckerman’s new book, “The Frackers,” which tells the story of the Oklahoma and Texas entrepreneurs behind the modern hydraulic fracturing/energy revolution, Bryan Burrough leads with:

One could argue that, except for the Internet, the most important technological advance of the last two decades has been hydraulic fracturing, widely known as fracking. Practically overnight, it seems, this drilling technique has produced so much oil and gas beneath American soil that we are at the brink of something once thought unattainable: true energy independence. And its repercussions, for geopolitics, the environment and other areas, are only now being grasped.  

More on Zuckerman’s book here and here. Certainly, Burrough’s first paragraph accurately characterizes the significance of fracking, how it has rewritten the U.S. energy narrative – from one of scarcity to abundance – that is affecting global energy markets and turning old geopolitical constructs upside down. More Burrough:

Just as the Internet boom was driven by the discovery and marriage of two technologies — digitization and broadband delivery — so, too, has the new energy bonanza been driven by parallel advances in fracking and in so-called horizontal drilling — that is, wells that are drilled down into the earth and then turned sideways to reach oil- and natural-gas-bearing strata. The difference between vertical and horizontal drilling is the difference between gathering up a fistful of thrown sand with a straw versus a spatula.

Burrough writes that fracturing rock to release energy isn’t new, noting that a driller in Pennsylvania tried it in the 1860s. And while hydraulic fracturing has been around since the 1940s, it’s the union of advanced fracking technologies and the ability to drill thousands of feet horizontally through shale layers that launched the ongoing production revolution.

Quantifiers of the revolution, including the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), describe it as “game-changing,” forecasting an energy future in which the United States is more secure, less dependent and a global supply leader.

tight oil production chartAccording to EIA, the U.S. produced 7.75 million barrels of oil in August, a level not seen since 1989. Oil from shale and other tight rock formations is projected to total more than 2 million barrels per day this year – up from about 500,000 barrels per day in 2008. Growth in overall domestic oil output is coming from shale – and fracking. Meanwhile, dry natural gas production from shale is approaching 30 billion cubic feet per day (bcf/d); in 2007 production was less than 5 bcf/d.

Again, this is a tribute to advances in safe, increasingly more efficient shale drilling. It is boosting our oil production to a point where the International Energy Agency projects U.S. output could surpass Saudi Arabia’s by the end of the decade. EIA estimates U.S. combined production of oil and natural gas will lead the world this year.

Thanks to the Frackers, those with the vision and courage to make the moves that would allow ingenuity and innovation to transform vast shale resources into more home-grown energy, the fuels for our lives and greater security in the world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.