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Hydraulic Fractures are Simple & Efficient

Left and middle: A synthetic hydraulic fracture produced in Jell-O using a stainless steel straw and colored syrup. Right: A natural one in the Touchet Beds as it appeared to R.L. Lupher (1944). It doesn't take a huge amount of force to generate hydraulic fractures. The conditions just have to be right. Note the stair-stepped geometry of the single-fill dike in Jell-O. Stair-stepping in a homogenous medium is spontaneous.

A disc-shaped, sand- and gravel-filled intrusion is fed from above by a slender conduit. This structure in the Touchet Beds (Missoula flood deposits) appears identical to hydraulic fractures produced with a straw in gelatin. Starbuck, WA.

Channel fill or filled hydraulic fracture? I suspect the former. Fluvial-lacustrine strata overlain by fanglomerate mapped as Ellensburg Fm. Houghton Rd north of Sunnyside, WA.

"Still Life, Green Edge" by William Scott (1971) sold in 2020 for $500,000, possibly to someone in the oil industry. Petroleum Geology majors often have careers that allow them to buy art and donate to geoscience departments. Environmental Studies majors don't.

Well fracking, first employed in the 1880s, is an outgrowth of reason and the quest for efficiency in a highly competitive industry. Fracking makes sense. The point of fracking a well is to increase the surface area of hydrocarbon-bearing strata in contact with the wellbore using fracture networks. The interior surface of a wellbore, a cylinder, is minuscule when compared to the surface area of an interconnected network of thin fractures extending several meters into the surrounding rock. While surface area of the wellbore could in theory be increased by drilling one very, very large-diameter hole or by drilling many, many small holes in close proximity to one another, neither approach is efficient, legally permitted, safe, or wise.

A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that it would take a single well with a diameter of 153' to equal the surface area of a 6" fracked well (see calcs below). 150' diameter well bores are not a thing; the largest tunnel boring machines are only 20m in diameter and TBMs don't go vertical. Fracking is an incredibly efficient way to increase the surface area of a single well drilled by one rig from one well pad. Its a standard legal practice that has been employed hundreds of thousands of times in petroleum basins worldwide for more than a century. Protesting well fracking makes no sense.

Back in 1862, Edward Roberts "conceived the idea of opening the veins and crevices in oil-bearing rock by exploding an elongated shell or torpedo therein.” Petroleum engineers later improved on his ideas to create the tight gas production industry we know today. Source: Drake Well Museum.

D.S. Hulse's 1959 patent for down-hole hydraulic fracturing and cyclic pressure curves - very smart.

A figure I made to describe what's going on during one fracking cycle - one of the little peaks in Hulse's Figure B.


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