Hydraulic Fracture Efficiency

Synthetic hydraulic fractures in Jell-O using a straw and colored syrup (left) and a natural one in the Touchet Beds (right).

A disc-shaped, sand-filled intrusion fed from above by a slender conduit. Touchet Beds in the Tucanon Valley at Starbuck, WA.

Well fracking, first employed in the 1880s, is an outgrowth of reason and the quest for efficiency. The point of fracking a well is to increase the surface area of hydrocarbon-bearing strata surrounding the wellbore. The interior surface of a wellbore, a cylinder, is minuscule when compared to the surface area of an interconnected network of hydraulic fractures. While an increase in the surface area in contact with the formation could, in theory, be achieved by drilling one very, very large-diameter hole or numerous smaller holes in close proximity to one another, neither approach is cost effective, legally permitted, 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 single 6" fracked well. Other options are shown below. Fracking is an incredibly efficient way to increase the surface area of a single well drilled by one rig from one well pad. That's why it is a fully legal practice so commonly employed in petroleum basins worldwide.

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