The Dark Bounty of Texas Oil

January 27, 2018

The Dark Bounty of Texas Oil
https://www.NewYorker.com/magazine/2018/01/01/the-dark-bounty-of-texas-oil The development of #fracking & horizontal drilling by Mitchell et al. is perhaps not appreciated as a major tech success of late 20th century (up there w/ the web & iPod!) but it did radically change the #energy economy

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“In 1954, Mitchell obtained a contract to supply ten per cent of Chicago’s natural-gas needs. However, the producing wells operated by his company, Mitchell Energy & Development, were declining. He needed to discover new sources of petroleum, or else.

A safer and more precise method, developed in the seventies, was to use jets of fluid, under intense pressure, to create micro-cracks in the strata, typically in limestone or sandstone. Expensive gels or foams were generally used to thicken the fluid, and biocide was added to kill the bacteria that can clog the cracks. A granular substance called “proppant,” made of sand or ceramics, was pumped into the cracks, keeping pathways open so that the hydrocarbons could make it to the surface. The process, which came to be known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, jostled loose the captured oil or gas molecules, but the technology had a fatal flaw: it was too costly to turn a profit in shale.

In 1981, Mitchell drilled his first fracked well in the Barnett shale, the C. W. Slay No. 1. It lost money, as did many wells that followed it.

To cut costs, one of Mitchell’s engineers, Nick Steinsberger, began tinkering with the fracking-fluid formula. He reduced the quantity of gels and chemicals, making the liquid more watery, and added a cheap lubricant, polyacrylamide…

Mitchell combined his new fracking formula with horizontal-drilling techniques that had been developed offshore; once you bored deep enough to reach a deposit, you could direct the bit into the oil- or gas-bearing seam, a far more efficient means of recovery. In 1998, one of Mitchell’s wells in the Barnett, S. H. Griffin No. 4, made a profit. The shale revolution was under way. Soon the same fracking techniques that Mitchell had pioneered in gas were applied to oil.”


The world economy
was in danger of being held captive to oil states that were often intensely anti-American. Then, around the time that Barack Obama became President, U.S. production shot back up, approaching its all-time peak. On Fowler’s graph, it looked like a flagpole. “In the span of five years, we go from 5.5 million barrels a day to 9.5 million, almost doubling the U.S. output,”…The difference, Fowler said, was advanced fracking techniques and horizontal drilling. …
The town used to be called Clark, but a decade ago its mayor made a deal with a satellite network to provide ten years of free basic service to the two hundred residents, in return for renaming the town after the company. Satellite dishes still sit atop many houses there, and even though the agreement has expired the town’s name remains: dish.

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