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Deepwater Drilling
High Stakes Fracking on the High Seas

Hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking,” as it’s more commonly called—has unlocked enormous reserves of oil and gas trapped in shale formations…on land. But the controversial drilling process, in which slurries of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into wells at extremely high pressures to fracture underground rock to access hydrocarbons, is also being used in offshore operations. Bloomberg reports:

Offshore fracking is a part of a broader industrywide strategy to make billion-dollar deep-sea developments pay off. The practice has been around for two decades yet only in the past few years have advances in technology and vast offshore discoveries combined to make large scale fracking feasible.

While fracking is also moving off the coasts of Brazil and Africa, the big play is in the Gulf of Mexico, where wells more than 100 miles from the coastline must traverse water depths of a mile or more and can cost almost $100 million to drill. […]

Deep-water wells cut through multiple pancaked layers of oil-soaked rock, and each layer must be fracked to get the most oil out — a task that can take a full day to get to the bottom of the well. Halliburton and others have figured out a way to save time and money by fracking all those layers in one trip down the well, instead of doing each layer separately.

As we saw with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, risks increase dramatically when you move drilling operations offshore, and especially when you start accessing deep water plays. The EPA is keeping a close eye on offshore fracking projects, and for good reason. No one wants to see a spill—and yes, greens, that includes the oil companies themselves.

But beyond the risks of potential leaks or spills, greens will also decry the attention being paid to underwater fracking because it encourages the expansion of fossil fuel extraction. Environmentalists have long been predicting “peak oil,” and one of their chief criticisms of fossil fuels is that they can’t be renewed, at least on a non-geologic time scale.

While that is technically true, in practice it’s turning out differently; new technologies continue to unlock new reserves that were previously thought to be beyond our reach. High oil prices make it economically viable to take the risk and put up the capital to try and tap these fringe reserves, which is in large part how the American shale boom was born.

Offshore fracking, like methane hydrates or Arctic sea drilling, represents a new fossil fuel frontier, and if it makes economic sense, companies are going to explore the new energy source.

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  • Josephbleau

    I think that the author should clarify that with a fracked reservoir you must invariably pump the oil to the surface, unlike the recent BP spill where you have reservoir pressure to create a wild spill or a “gusher”. The only spill potential is the handling at the pressure side of the pump, which can quickly be deprived of its electricity if a spill starts.

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