Thanks to the dual-deployment of horizontal well drilling and hydraulic fracturing, oil and gas firms have unlocked massive new reserves across the United States, completely transforming America’s energy fortunes in just a matter of years. Critics, however, have pointed out that these new wells often give way to a rapid decline in output, arguing that the shale boom isn’t all it’s fracked up to be. The shale drilling industry is working to solve this problem, and one method, which involves tiny plastic balls added to the slurry pumped underground to break up shale rock, is allowing producers to “refrack” wells previously thought to be tapped out. Reuters reports:
Wells sunk as little as three years ago are being fracked again, the latest innovation in the technology-driven shale oil revolution. Hydraulic fracturing, which has upended global energy markets by lifting U.S. crude oil output to a 25-year high, has been troubled by quick declines in oil and gas output. [...]
Using minuscule plastic balls, known as diverting agents, pumped at high speeds with water into the old wells, most of which are three to five years old, [Canadian firm Encana Corp.] blocked some the older fractures, or cracks. “The thought is that the diverting agent will go to the cracks with the least amount of pressure,” bypassing cracks with higher pressure and boosting the pressure of the entire well so output climbs, [said David Martinez, Encana's senior manager for Haynesville development].
It’s a common but very serious mistake to predict the future based on what holds true today. In this case, those who have predicted the demise of the shale revolution may soon be forced to eat their words. The pace of technological change is accelerating, redefining possibilities along the way. We’re seeing this on display in the energy world, where plays that a decade ago were thought to be permanently inaccessible are suddenly gushing oil and gas. To expect no further breakthroughs along the lines of fracking and horizontal well-drilling is a mistake.