By: Adam Natwick and Ross Perleberg
As North Dakota residents, we all know that oil and gas production plays a big part in our state’s economy. Most of us are also aware that oil and gas extraction is continuously occurring in our state’s western counties like McKenzie, Williams, and Mountrail. But what most people don’t know is how this extraction works.
After leases are negotiated with mineral rights owners, the state’s permits are issued, and the well pad and access roads are constructed. Oil and gas drilling then proceeds in two major phases: directional drilling and well stimulation. This extraction method is called hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as simply “fracking,” and it works by using pressurized water to fracture, or crack, deep underground rock so that trapped hydrocarbons can be released.
This process starts by drilling a well bore about two miles (this varies by formation), far beyond groundwater levels and into the shale formation. A steel tube, called a surface casing, is then placed inside the well to stabilize it. Cement is then pumped in to fill the gap between the surface casing and well bore to seal the well further and protect aquifers.
After more casing and cement layers are placed, the well is then drilled again to the desired depth and horizontal length into the oil and gas-bearing shale formation. Once the desired horizontal distance is reached, the casing and cementing process continues inside the well to further ensure environmental protection and well stability.
The stimulation can now begin by using a perforating tool, which is then inserted into the horizontal part of the well.
This tool uses a small explosive charge to shoot holes in the shale layer, which will allow the hydrocarbons to enter the well stream. Fracturing fluid, made of 95% water and sand, is then pumped in so that these further fractures are created and remain open. Most of the fluid is then removed, and the well will begin to produce oil.
Once a well starts producing, the oil and gas is usually stored on-site with large storage tanks. Some well pad sites may also have pipelines connected in order to facilitate the transportation of these products to market.
These newly drilled horizontal wells, in some cases, can expect to see production continue for 30 to 50 years. It should be noted that improvements continue to be made to fracking techniques. A well might also experience re-fracturing numerous times in its life to maximize its production ability and potential.
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