Hydraulic Fracturing
Hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, fracing or hydrofracking, is the process of initiating and subsequently propagating a fracture in a rock layer, employing the pressure of a fluid as the source of energy. The fracturing, known as a frack job (or frac job), is done from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations, in order to increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas and coal seam gas.
Hydraulic fractures may be natural or created by human activity, and are extended by internal fluid pressure which opens the fracture and causes it to extend through the rock. Natural hydraulic fractures include igneous dikes, sills and fracturing by ice as in frost weathering. Man-made fluid-driven fractures are formed at depth in a borehole and extend into targeted formations. The fracture width is typically maintained after the injection by introducing a "proppant" into the injected fluid. Proppant is a material, such as grains of sand, ceramic, or other particulates, that prevent the fractures from closing when the injection is stopped.
Purpose
The technique of hydraulic fracturing is used to increase or restore the rate at which fluids, such as oil or water, or natural gas can be produced from subterranean natural reservoirs, including unconventional reservoirs such as shale rock or coal beds. Hydraulic fracturing enables the production of natural gas and oil from rock formations deep below the earth's surface (generally 5,000-20,000 feet or 1,500-6,100 m). At such depth, there may not be sufficient porosity and permeability, to allow natural gas and oil to flow from the rock into the wellbore at economic rates. Thus, creating conductive fractures in the rock is essential to extract gas from shale reservoirs because of the extremely low natural permeability of shale, which is measured in the microdarcy to nanodarcy range. Fractures provides a conductive path connecting a larger area of the reservoir to the well, thereby increasing the area from which natural gas and liquids can be recovered from the targeted formation.
While the main industrial use of hydraulic fracturing is in stimulating production from oil and gas wells, hydraulic fracturing is also applied to:
  • Stimulating groundwater wells
  • Preconditioning rock for caving or inducing rock to cave in mining
  • As a means of enhancing waste remediation processes (usually hydrocarbon waste or spills) or spills.
  • Dispose of waste by injection into suitable deep rock formations
  • As a method to measure the stress in the earth.
Method
A hydraulic fracture is formed by pumping the fracturing fluid into the wellbore at a rate sufficient to increase the pressure downhole to a value in excess of the fracture gradient of the formation rock. The pressure causes the formation to crack, allowing the fracturing fluid to enter and extend the crack farther into the formation. To keep this fracture open after the injection stops, a solid proppant, commonly a sieved round sand, is added to the fracture fluid. The propped hydraulic fracture then becomes a high permeability conduit through which the formation fluids can flow to the well.
Drilling
While hydraulic fracturing can be performed in a vertical well, it is generally performed via horizontal drilling whereby the terminal drillhole is completed as a 'lateral' that extends parallel with the rock layer containing the substance to be extracted. Laterals extend 1,500 to 5,000 feet in the Barnett shale basin. In contrast, a vertical well only accesses the thickness of the rock layer, typically 50-300 feet. Horizontal drilling also reduces surface disruptions as fewer wells are required. Drilling a wellbore produces rock chips and fine rock particles that may enter cracks and pore space at the wellbore wall, reducing the permeability at and near the wellbore. This reduces flow into the borehole from the surrounding rock formation, and partially seals off the borehole from the surrounding rock. Hydraulic fracturing can be used to restore permeability.
Hydraulic fracturing is commonly applied to wells drilled in low permeability reservoir rock. An estimated 90 percent of the natural gas wells in the United States use hydraulic fracturing to produce gas at economic rates.
Fracturing
The fluid injected into the rock is typically a slurry of water, proppants, and chemical additives. Additionally, gels, foams, and compressed gases, including nitrogen, carbon dioxide and air can be injected. Various types of proppant include silica sand, resin-coated sand, and man-made ceramics. These vary depending on the type of permeability or grain strength needed. Sand containing naturally radioactive minerals is sometimes used so that the fracture trace along the wellbore can be measured. Chemical additives are applied to tailor the injected material to the specific geological situation, protect the well, and improve its operation, though the injected fluid is approximately 99 percent water and 1 percent proppant, varying slightly based on the type of well. The composition of injected fluid is changed during the operation of a well over time, that is initially acid is used to increase permeability, then proppants are used with a gradual increase in their size, and at the end the well is flushed with water under pressure. Injected fluid is to some degree recovered and stored in pits or containers; it can be toxic due to the chemical additives and material washed out from the ground. It is sometimes processed so that part of it can be reused in fracing operations, part released into the environment after treatment, and some residual permanently placed in deep-well storage.
Hydraulic fracturing equipment used in oil and natural gas fields usually consists of a slurry blender, one or more high pressure, high volume fracturing pumps (typically powerful triplex, or quintiplex pumps) and a monitoring unit. Associated equipment includes fracturing tanks, high pressure treating iron, a chemical additive unit (used to accurately monitor chemical addition) low pressure pipes and gauges for flow rate, fluid density, and treating pressure. Fracturing equipment operates over a range of pressures and injection rates, and can reach up to 100 MPa (15,000 psi) and 265 L/s (100 barrels per minute).
Fracture monitoring
Microseismic monitoring is commonly used to estimate the size and orientation of hydraulically induced fractures. Microseismic activity is measured by placing an array ofgeophones in a nearby wellbore. By mapping the location of any small seismic events associated with the growing hydraulic fracture, the approximate geometry of the fracture is inferred. Tiltmeter arrays, deployed on the surface or down a well, provide another technology for monitoring the strains produced by hydraulic fracturing.
The location of fracturing along the length of the borehole can be controlled by inserting composite plugs, also known as bridge plugs, below and above the region to be fractured.
This allows a borehole to be progressively fractured along the length of the bore, without leaking fracture fluid out through previously fractured regions. Piping through the upper plug admits fracturing fluid and proppant into the working region. This method is commonly referred to as "plug and perf."
Typically, hydraulic fracturing is performed in cased wellbores and the reservoir zones to be fractured are accessed by perforating the casing at those locations.
Completion
Advances in completion technology have led to the emergence of open hole multi-stage fracturing systems. These systems effectively place fractures in specific places in the wellbore, thus increasing the cumulative production in a shorter time frame.
Certain reservoirs such as the Bakken, Barnett Shale, Montney, and Haynesville Shale cannot be produced using conventional methods. These formations have begun using high tech completion systems capable of mechanically fracturing at certain intervals. An alternative to the plug and perf method, multi-stage fracturing systems are capable of stimulating several stages in a single day. Compared to the weeks required by the plug and perf method, cost-effective multi-stage completion systems are quickly becoming sought after technology by oil and natural gas companies.
Terminology
Fracture Gradient
The pressure to fracture the formation at a particular depth divided by the depth. A fracture gradient of 18 kPa/m (0.8 psi/foot) implies that at a depth of 3 km (10,000 feet) a pressure of 54 MPa (8,000 psi) will extend a hydraulic fracture.
ISIP - Initial Shut In Pressure
The pressure measured immediately after injection stops. The ISIP provides a measure of the pressure in the fracture at the wellbore by removing contributions from fluid friction.
Leakoff
Loss of fracturing fluid from the fracture channel into the surrounding permeable rock.
Fracturing fluid
The fluid used during a hydraulic fracture treatment of oil, gas or water wells. The fracturing fluid has two major functions:
  • Open and extend the fracture
  • Transport the proppant along the fracture length.
Proppant
Suspended particles in the fracturing fluid that are used to hold fractures open after a hydraulic fracturing treatment, thus producing a conductive pathway that fluids can easily flow along. Naturally occurring sand grains or artificial ceramic material are common proppants used.
Concise slang
"Fracing" (sometimes spelled "fracking" primarily in media) is a shortened version of fracturing.

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