|Fracking, coupled with horizontal drilling, has significantly increased natural gas and oil production in the United States. The technological breakthroughs in horizontal drilling and fracturing have made shale and other unconventional supplies commercially viable. Fracking makes it possible to extract crude oil and natural gas from unconventional resources which were previously deemed unproductive or uneconomical.
Although hydraulic fracturing is often used in conventional oil and natural gas fields, it is not usually on the same scale as shale layers. While the technique of hydraulic fracturing is quite similar in conventional and unconventional reservoirs, drilling in unconventional formations has unique conditions not typical of conventionally completed wells. This drilling is deeper and requires substantially more fresh water (millions of gallons rather than 50-100,000 gallons), greater volumes of chemicals, and produces larger quantities of wastewater.
In Michigan, unconventional drilling is designated “high volume hydraulic fracturing.” According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), “high volume hydraulic fracturing well completion means a well completion operation that is intended to use a total of more than 100,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid.”
Oil and Gas Well Drilling Process
The process for exploration and development of oil and gas wells includes leasing, permitting, well site preparations, drilling, hydraulic fracturing, production, plugging, and reclamation.
Leasing and Permitting
First, operators must locate suitable shale oil and gas targets by collecting seismic data to evaluate an area’s potential for economically producible oil and gas. Once an operator has identified the best location to drill an exploratory well, the operator must negotiate a lease or contract to obtain permission to access the minerals below the surface. An oil/gas/mineral lease is an important legal document that defines the relationship between the landowner or the owner of the mineral rights and the party interested in extracting the oil, gas, or other minerals. The lease defines the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of both parties. Landowners should always seek professional assistance in reviewing the lease terms prior to signing a lease because provisions contained in leases may be unfamiliar and will not necessarily be in the best interest of the property owner.
Once access to the minerals is granted by the landowner, the operator must obtain all necessary permits. For Michigan, permits must be obtained from the MDEQ Office of Oil, Gas, and Minerals.
Well Pad Construction
The next stage is to prepare and construct the well pad site. This includes clearing a 3 to 5 acre pad of land to make room for equipment such as the drilling rig and building access roads. The operator may also bring in tanks holding sand and chemicals to be used in the hydraulic fracturing process as well frac tanks to store wastewater. Freshwater pits may be constructed to temporarily hold freshwater and drilling muds. Here is an example of a well site and the common equipment found on site.