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The Fracking Bubble

I am an engineer at the core, and fascinated by the industrial processes in front of the camera. So a lot of research and writing goes behind these photos. And much is learned “in the trenches”, especially when one has the chance to spend time with a real expert.

While I know a good bit about the refining of aluminum and can recite the steps, those chemical formulas get hard. And another one: the Haber-Bosch Process for extracting nitrogen from natural gas. It saved the world from starvation, but can I explain it?

But hydrofracking is my turf. Here is a little excerpt of the text I’ve been working on for the book:

“Hydrofracking is different from traditional oil and gas exploration in which large reservoirs are found containing tremendous volumes of hydrocarbons and extracted by drilling a hole into it. Fracturing a rock layer deep underground is an expensive, high-tech process, and can be done only locally and in small increments, releasing a relatively small amount of petroleum from each well. Then the teams move down the line and repeat. Because of this incremental nature of the extraction, the oil companies must lease drilling rights from landowners over the target rock layer. These leases have expiration dates, which puts pressure on the oil companies to drill, whether the laws of supply and demand justify it. Therefore the price of natural gas has been driven downward in the USA relative to the rest of the world.

Hydro-fracking site with drill rig. A water reservoir is filled by trucks for later fracking.
Hydro-fracking site with drill rig. A water reservoir is filled by trucks for later fracking.

The two principal stages of the process, drilling and fracking, are discrete steps performed by separate teams using different equipment, each posing its own hazards. Drilling entails boring down to the shale layer, then horizontally through it, installing a pipe, pouring a concrete collar around the upper part and finally, perforating the pipe running through the shale. The drill rig then leaves for another job and the well is sealed to await the fracking team. For the fracking, 12 giant compressors on truck beds are clustered around the well head, and pump, at extreme pressure, millions of gallons of water mixed with a cocktail of chemicals and sand into the perforated pipes, a mile below the surface.”

And it’s a joy to revisit these things several years later. Especially fracking, which has been halted in New York State. For now.

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