--> --> Historical development of well stimulation and hydraulic fracturing technologies

AAPG Pacific Section and Rocky Mountain Section Joint Meeting

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Historical development of well stimulation and hydraulic fracturing technologies


The well completion and enhancement technique known as hydraulic fracturing is a highly visible and controversial topic as evidenced by multitudes of news articles, regulatory workshops, local public hearings, and documentaries and films such as Gasland, FrackNation and Promised Land. From an historical perspective, interest in the production of natural gas from shale has its roots in the early 1820s; whereas, technological innovation and entrepreneurship in enhancing oil production takes hold during the 1860s. Since such time, a myriad of innovative techniques have been pursued to enhance oil and gas production. Many of these techniques owe their origins to technological developments and advances within the military complex. Hydraulic fracturing is a well stimulation technique where rock is fractured via pressurized liquid. Historic development can be divided into four major phases: Explosives and Guns (1820s-1930s); The Birth of the Petroleum Engineer (1940s-1950s); Going Nuclear during Peak Oil (1960s-mid1970s); and The Rise of the Unconventionals (mid1970s-present). The concept of fracturing rock adjacent to a well bore can be traced back to the mid-1860s with the use of explosives and development of the petroleum torpedo. Following World War I, the use of technology developed during the war years would lead to downhole well casing perforators and perforating guns. Chemistry comes into play in the early 1930s with the development of acidizing treatments under pressure. Hydraulic fracturing in a more modern context has its domestic roots in the late 1940s, and by the 1950s was also being developed in the Soviet Union, and by the 1970s and 1980s in Western Europe. After World War II well stimulation would go nuclear. Nuclear fracking makes a cameo appearance in the 1960s. Other techniques during this period such as water injection and squeeze-cementing techniques were also being developed. With the later development of horizontal drilling techniques, along with developments in the use of fluids and proppants, pumping and blending equipment, and fracture-treatment design, these advances would have a profound and dramatic impact in the number of producing oil and gas fields nationwide, and the significant role unconventional resources would play in the future.