4 Things You Probably Don't Know About Fracking

Photo credit: Flickr/Nicholas A. Tonelli

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a hotly debated topic. Movies like Gasland have brought to light some points of concern on the practice used to extract additional oil or gas from wells. The industry has countered with facts of its own, making it tough to know what to believe. There is a lot of noise when it comes to fracking and with it there are some really interesting facts that many miss. So here are four things most people probably don't know about fracking.

Fracking had humble beginnings
Halliburton
(NYSE: HAL  ) performed the first experimental fracturing operation in Kansas in 1947. It took the company two years before it was actually commercially successful with the process.

The process has only recently come under scrutiny because of its combination with horizontal drilling. George Mitchell is credited with starting the latest boom when he began to use it to unlock the Barnett Shale in Texas in the 1990s. He later sold his company to Devon Energy (NYSE: DVN  ) , which has continued to drive the fracking boom. However, it is the widespread use of the technique in places such as Pennsylvania, where residents are not as familiar with the process, that has fueled much of the recent debate. Not to mention some earlier missteps by the industry that has hurt its image.

1.1 million frack jobs and counting
Over the past six decades the industry has undertaken 1.1 million fracturing operations. In fact, nine out of every 10 wells drilled onshore in the U.S. require some form of fracture stimulation. The technique is used in reaching shale gas in Pennsylvania, unlocking the oil riches of North Dakota, and various other locations.

Not all fracking chemicals are harmful
The industry has gone to great lengths to change its methods in order to calm public fears. One of the big fears surrounds the chemicals used in the fracking process. While 99.5% of what's pumped into a well is a mixture of water and proppants like sand, it's that last 0.5% that causes concern. That's because when millions of gallons of water are involved these chemicals add up to tens of thousands of gallons.

Halliburton, however, has developed a safer solution. It is called CleanStim, which is a new hydraulic fracturing solution made up entirely of ingredient sources from the food industry. While it's not exactly fit for human consumption, it does significantly reduce the risks involved with the chemical exposure that so many are concerned about.

Water recycling is the new normal
Each frack job uses millions of gallons of freshwater. However, if Halliburton has its way the industry will use 25% less freshwater next year, employing recycled water instead. The company has partnered with Nuverra Environmental Solutions (NYSE: NES  ) on a solution called H2O Forward that will recycle water that flows back during the fracking process. Nuverra Environmental Solutions is an ideal logistical partner on this venture because its entire business model is built around treating, recycling, and properly disposing of the water used to frack each well.

Energy companies have made great strides in recycling the water produced from fracking. Devon Energy, for example, has built its own water recycling plant in Oklahoma to support development of the Cana-Woodford shale. During its first nine months of operations, the plant has saved 5 million barrels of freshwater from being used to frack Devon's wells. There are countless examples in which the industry is working toward the goal of using less water in fracking operations. 

Final thoughts
Fracking will continue to be controversial for years to come. The industry still has a long way to go to clean up both the process and the image of fracking. However, it is making solid strides as it uses less harmful chemicals and recycles more of the water employed in the process. Because of this the fracking boom isn't likely to slow down anytime soon.

How to profit from the fracking boom
Fracking has fueled record oil and natural gas production that is revolutionizing the United States' energy position. This sea change should turn out to be very profitable for investors. That is why the Motley Fool is offering a comprehensive look at three energy companies set to soar during this transformation in the energy industry. To find out which three companies are spreading their wings, check out the special free report, "3 Stocks for the American Energy Bonanza." Don't miss out on this timely opportunity; click here to access your report -- it's absolutely free. 



Read/Post Comments (18) | Recommend This Article (34)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 16, 2013, at 3:03 PM, Oilvet wrote:

    No matter what improvements the Oil Service Companies make in fracking technology the Enviro Whacko Industry will still put out anti-fracking propaganda until some other means of fossil fuel recovery is discovered simply because its a way to extort money from the producers with their idiotic law suits,

  • Report this Comment On October 16, 2013, at 9:21 PM, jadhp wrote:

    Really, just once when you are talking about fracking would you put a picture of a completion rig or an actual frac crew instead of a drilling rig. On shore they do not have drilling rigs on location when they frac.

  • Report this Comment On October 18, 2013, at 5:58 PM, TMFmd19 wrote:

    @jadhp - sure, if I can find something decent that I'm allowed to use. I just like that picture.

    Matt

  • Report this Comment On October 19, 2013, at 12:15 PM, woolibulli wrote:

    I would applaud making it safer, but do you think that the people in Pennsylvania were dreaming when they tasted chemicals in their previously fresh water?

  • Report this Comment On October 19, 2013, at 1:07 PM, billytp wrote:

    In fact, there are companies that are now recycling frack water in the kind of quantities required by that process, without the use of any chemicals. It's an industry in relative infancy, but companies like Ecosphere Technologies, provide that kind of capabiity now. Gotta be honest though, I do own some stock because I believe it's a viable solution to an industry problem that's existed for a long time.

  • Report this Comment On October 19, 2013, at 2:11 PM, mj2boogie wrote:

    woolibulli,

    Like the name!!

    I'm not familiar with the event you mention. Do you have some background or a source.

    Without knowing more, I would say that things like someone tasting 'chemicals' in there water, or seeing their water light on fire as it comes out of a tap do not mean that either is caused by fracking. Threre can be a number of reasons for those occurences. Curious about what transpired in PA.

    Thanks,

    Mark

  • Report this Comment On October 19, 2013, at 5:00 PM, edgitect wrote:

    25% LESS FRESH WATER!!!! How about NO fresh water used!!! It's water for chrimey's sake. There is an increasingly distressing shortage of it globally.

    It's the HYDRO in hydro-fracking that's the issue folks. As some wise person commented : " you think the war for oil is bad.... wait 'til we start fighting over water."

    I've seen the water that has been coming out of peoples' well in PA. It's incredibly disturbing. The gas companies made those folks comply with a gag order when they settled. That's why we don't hear to much about it.

  • Report this Comment On October 19, 2013, at 5:25 PM, Joeinthehouse wrote:

    This is a total puff piece. Water contamination is but one issue. Increase in earth settlement (quakes) etc are others. And oh yes, Haliburton is the bastion of truth. See below for issues not covered.

    http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-07-29/politics/40887...

    http://www.propublica.org/article/dep-issues-citation-to-pen...

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2011/07/times_newsroom_...

  • Report this Comment On October 19, 2013, at 7:25 PM, martinmarlinciii wrote:

    Check out DNR and their related technology.

  • Report this Comment On October 19, 2013, at 7:44 PM, interdependent wrote:

    If our children hope to survive our mess, we won't involve fracking methane any more. Their lives will be difficult enough. We need to eliminate CO2 and methane emissions asap.

    Scientific Case for Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change for Young People and Nature:

    •6% per year emissions reduction and

    •100GtCarbon worth of reforestation then

    We might get the planet back to a stable habitable climate near 2100.

    That's my kids' planet: hot dry thirsty and with stronger wetter storms,all because we had to frack and drill and mine our way to a comfy gated retirement community (note to self: Avoid Miami and Phoenix).

    If we delay until 2020 to take the same bold steps, the same plan gets us a long shot chance at a stable climate near 2300. But that's much more unlikely the longer we keep the planet above 350ppm CO2.

    Recap: That's 6 or 7 years of arguing about taking action, --driving to work in a gas car, vacationing in Hawaii, you know thinking about it-- that will cost the planet 200 years of additional suffering and extinctions.

    Now instead if thinking right now, how can I make a profit on this, think, how can I make a difference? Because more than anybody else on earth, you can. Because everything you love on this earth, including Wall Street and money, is at risk if we don't act.

    When your house is on fire, you don't argue about how hot it might get, or how it started, or invest in more firestarter. You throw everything you've got into putting it out.

    Because there are people in there. (To paraphrase Kathleen Moore)

    Do the world a favor: Divest from fossil fuels today.

    80% of known reserves need to stay in the ground to avoid a climate catastrophe. That's a heck of a lot of assets and profits that can only be realized if we decide to commit the earth to this 6th full extinction event. So you might avoid a carbon bubble by getting out now. But the real reason to move your money is to leave the fossil fuels in the ground. For life.

    Instead of playing the odds on whether we will change in time or not, play the change agent. Become a multiplier and make the future better sooner. Tell everybody you know to do the best we can.

    Is the American dream dead? Or can we profit without taking any more methane and carbon out of storage?

    Before you invest ask yourself, Where can I make a killing without killing anybody?

    Because 3-10% returns for retirement are not worth a tortured future for life as we know it on earth.

    Check out 350.org.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 9:10 AM, sevenheart wrote:

    Good article. The beautiful part of the oilfield is that it isn't as static as the environmental movement. There are new developments almost daily such as water free fracing (no k in fracturing), the use of production water (saline from the ancient seabeds that are the heart of hydrocarbons). Proppant is a material used to hold (prop open) induced fractures open in naturally fractured formations. The surface section of every oil or gas well is drilled with the same techniques used to drill water wells to depths well below fresh water. Fresh water wells are often drilled into organic methane producing formations of peat and coal, natural gas is notably different in that it is thermally mature and can be analytically differentiated from organic methane. Chesapeake has started testing domestic water wells prior to any drilling activity shocking many people hoping to win the lawsuit lottery that they have had methane in their wells all along. And CO2? What a shocker that fresh water wells release CO2 entrained in aquifers. If people would just think about CO2 rationally- nitrogen is about 80% of our atmosphere, oxygen about 19% and CO2 is 0.04% of the atmosphere. If 4/100ths of one percent of the atmosphere is enough to destroy the planet, we are doomed, this planet cannot sustain life. Did anyone learn that photosynthesis requires CO2? To learn more about the difference in natural gas and water tap methane, check out the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission website's article refuting the false claims (Lies) of Gasland a wonderful propaganda film. It is well written, rational and easy to understand. Hydrocarbons are not going away because there is nothing else that does what they do and they are incredibly abundant. (That will raise some howls from the peak oil crowd- please read the opening comment about static beliefs in spite of contradictory facts).

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 11:16 AM, gerry122 wrote:

    I will not invest in companies that damage the earth or biodiversity. There are plenty of other good companies out there to choose from.

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 9:41 PM, mj2boogie wrote:

    Sevenheart,

    Hold on now, you are using facts and reason in your arguments. That is not allowed (ha). You raise good points that those who disparage fracking (yeah, it shouldn't have the k, but it looks so much better with it, and is the common spelling these days) should pay attention to. As opposed to the hysteria many anti-fracking folks rely on (dang, I've done it again!). As a geologist with several decades of experience in oil & gas, I appreciate you making the arguments I was too lazy to make...

    Thanks,

    Mark

  • Report this Comment On October 20, 2013, at 10:35 PM, FoolTheRest wrote:

    @edgitect

    How is that reasonable? Just about every industry requires the use of water. Food growing, raising, and production, microchip and computer production, lumber and materials, construction, renewable energy, clothing, furniture, autos and parts, electricity, HVAC, newspapers, and countless others all use a lot of water.

    The gas companies did not make people keep quiet. If you and I enter into a contract, I pay you for services, consideration, time, or whatever, and part of that contract includes confidentiality, I do not "make" you keep quiet, you agree to it and I pay you for it.

    Crimini?

  • Report this Comment On October 21, 2013, at 1:09 AM, Geojockey wrote:

    As usual, the truth lies somewhere between industry propaganda and green rhetoric. The industry HAS been instrumental in pushing the US towards energy independence and it CAN be a safe technology (I used to work in the O&G industry.) However, a lot of earlier missteps by some companies with wildcatting mentality have quite justifiably raised alarms, especially in Pennsylvania where the presence of improperly abandoned early 20th century oil wells have provided conduits from fracing zones into shallow potable groundwater. I'm all for more oversight- I've never seen an oil boom stopped dead in it's tracks by over-regulation; but we've seen another energy player, nuclear, nearly KO'd from lack of it. In other words, don't stop the train- but please don't complain when more conductors are added to collect tickets!

  • Report this Comment On October 22, 2013, at 3:24 PM, dliles wrote:

    @Geojockey

    Please explain "but we've seen another energy player, nuclear, nearly KO'd from lack of it."

    Are you suggesting a lack of regulations for nuclear?

  • Report this Comment On October 25, 2013, at 3:58 PM, MikeMJr wrote:

    @sevenheart...I'll ditto the mj2boogie comment...thanks

    @interdependent...lmao...you've consumed the hysteria kool aid

  • Report this Comment On October 25, 2013, at 4:30 PM, arsailman1 wrote:

    What a puff piece. Total industry fluff. Where are the realities of the damage done with the waste fluids? Where is the info on the changes in farm and home wells and watering holes? Nothing was mentioned about the problems with fracking. This seemed to be an industry advertisement. Not up to MF standards as far as I am concerned...

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