Industrial Insight

What the frack… | September 30, 2011

How fracking works

Fears are based on ignorance


Last Updated: 1:34 AM, September 28, 2011

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This technology lets engineers monitor the process as drills run straight down nearly a mile before making a gradual bend to run horizontal about the same distance. This “precision horizontal drilling” is the new technique that’s made it practical to exploit the Marcellus Shale (“fracking” has actually been done in America for decades).

In the data-monitoring van with his team of consultants, petroleum engineer Nick Pottmeyer explained fracking. The team slides a device known as a “perforating gun” into the horizontal portion of the well, then uses it to set off small charges that punch pinholes in the horizontal steel production casing.

Then, they unclog the holes with an infusion of water and a diluted acid to remove any debris. The acid dissipates as the shale neutralizes it, over a mile underground.

Huge pumps drive water mixed with silica sand down into the horizontal leg of the casing — forcing the sand and water through the tiny holes to make hairline cracks in the shale. The microscopic grains of sand “prop” open the cracks, to allow the gas into the well and to keep the cracks from closing.


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I'm the executive vice president for a steel casting trade association, the Steel Founders' Society of America. I've got a crazy wife, five crazy children, three crazy people that married into the family, and two crazy fun little grandsons.







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