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 (NASDAQOTH:NESC) 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.
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.
Fool contributor Matt DiLallo owns shares of Nuverra Environmental Solutions. The Motley Fool recommends Halliburton. The Motley Fool owns shares of Devon Energy and Nuverra Environmental Solutions and has the following options: long December 2013 $2 puts on Nuverra Environmental Solutions, long January 2014 $4 calls on Nuverra Environmental Solutions, and short January 2014 $3 puts on Nuverra Environmental Solutions. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.