Hydraulic Fracturing

Editor’s note: In 2006, SPE honored nine pioneers of the hydraulic fracturing industry as Legends of Hydraulic Fracturing. Claude E. Cooke Jr., Francis E. Dollarhide, Jacques L. Elbel, C. Robert Fast, Robert R. Hannah, Larry J. Harrington, Thomas K. Perkins, Mike Prats, and H.K. van Poollen were recognized as instrumental in developing new technologies and contributing to the advancement of the field through their roles as researchers, consultants, instructors, and authors of ground-breaking journal articles.

Following is an excerpt from SPE’s new Legends of Hydraulic Fracturing CDROM, which contains an extended overview of the history of the technology, list of more than 150 technical papers published by these industry legends, personal reflections from a number of the Legends and their colleagues, and historic photographs. For more information on the CDROM, please go to http://store.spe.org/Legendsof-Hydraulic-Fracturing-P433.aspx.

Since Stanolind Oil introduced hydraulic fracturing in 1949, close to 2.5 million fracture treatments have been performed worldwide. Some believe that approximately 60% of all wells drilled today are fractured. Fracture stimulation not only increases the production rate, but it is credited with adding to reserves—9 billion bbl of oil and more than 700 Tscf of gas added since 1949 to US reserves alone—which otherwise would have been uneconomical to develop. In addition, through accelerating production, net present value of reserves has increased.

Fracturing can be traced to the 1860s, when liquid (and later, solidified) nitroglycerin (NG) was used to stimulate shallow, hard rock wells in Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Although extremely hazardous, and often used illegally, NG was spectacularly successful for oil well “shooting.” The object of shooting a well was to break up, or rubblize, the oil-bearing formation to increase both initial flow and ultimate recovery of oil. This same fracturing principle was soon applied with equal effectiveness to water and gas wells.

In the 1930s, the idea of injecting a nonexplosive fluid (acid) into the ground to stimulate a well began to be tried. The “pressure parting” phenomenon was recognized in well-acidizing operations as a means of creating a fracture that would not close completely because of acid etching. This would leave a flow channel to the well and enhance productivity. The phenomenon was confirmed in the field, not only with acid treatments, but also during water injection and squeeze-cementing operations.

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