A Closer Look At The History of Hydraulic Fracturing!
December 23, 2016
Hydraulic fracturing or fracking as it is more commonly known is a technique that has been used to extract oil and gas from deep within the ground since 1949, helping the sale of oil rights. Thought by many to be revolutionary new technology, this technique made it possible to release unobtainable oil and gas from shale deposits, drastically increasing the U.S. production of these two resources and helping the profitability of those with gas and oil rights. In actuality, the idea behind fracking has been around for quite a while longer than most realize.
The Civil War And Hydraulic Fracking
Fracking, which is a method of cracking layers of deep shale using pressurized water to release oil and gas, actually began by studying the relationship between explosives and water. In 1862 during the Civil War, Colonel Edward Roberts observed the effect of artillery shells being fired into a canal at the Battle of Fredericksburg Virginia. His observations led him to develop an idea which he called “superincumbent fluid tamping,” a method of breaking up rock using water and explosives to extract oil and gas.
The Roberts Torpedo
After more development and many experiments, Roberts received a design patent in 1866 for the Roberts Torpedo, an explosive that he felt could improve the extraction of oil from the ground to provide higher yield. His design consisted of an iron torpedo that contained between fifteen and twenty pounds of explosive powder, which was lowered into a drilled shaft in the ground to the location where the explosion was desired. Before the torpedo was exploded using a wire control, the shaft was filled with water to increase the effect of the explosion once the torpedo was exploded.
The results from his technique were astonishing, increasing well production as much as 1200 percent in some cases. Roberts went on to turn his torpedo technology into a profitable business, charging well owners $200 per torpedo and a small percentage of the increase in oil rights. His idea also helped others make more money in their sale of oil rights as the wells became increasingly productive.
From Torpedoes to Modern Hydraulic Fracking
Due to the success that Roberts experienced with his idea, it was only a matter of time before others began to copy it. There were a number of legal battles over the Roberts Torpedo, with “moonlight torpedoists” offering private services to well owners, which eventually changed the technique a bit. Nitroglycerine was used to replace black powder, generating an even greater result from the late 1800s to as recently as 1990. It was at that time that the Otto Cupler Torpedo Company used the last nitroglycerine torpedo to shoot an oil well. By this time, it was not the only technique in use.
In 1947, drilling specialists experimented with other ways to perform this type of well fracturing, achieving success with high-pressure water. Having proved the effectiveness of hydraulic fracturing and its ability to increase well productivity, this method became more widely used. In 1949, the Halliburton and Stanolind Company successfully drilled the first commercial well using hydraulic fracturing. Since then, fracking has been used more than a million times throughout the U.S.
Hydraulic fracking is now the main technique used to create cracks in the deep shale under the ground, allowing oil companies to extract deeper deposits of oil and natural gas. This method has drastically increased oil and gas production in the U.S. in the last few decades, helping oil rights holders profit greatly from the sale of oil rights. Although the idea never came into full use until the 1950s, it is interesting to see how hydraulic fracking came about from a Civil War idea. Today’s methods, though refined, are only slightly different from that original burst of inspiration that changed the oil and gas industry forever, all the way back in the 1800’s!
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