“Fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, has the potential to become a major industry in Kentucky, but it’s also a matter of some controversy. Some Kentuckians want to see more fracking along with the jobs and economic stimulation it creates, while others think fracking should be heavily restricted. So what exactly is fracking and how does it work?
David Greenlee, an energy industry expert and consultant based on Bowling Green, KY, says fracking is the key that unlocks reserves of oil and gas that were previously impossible to access. Greenlee’s view of fracking as the latest leap forward in our energy industry is accurate, but fracking is not a new technology. In fact, fracking has been around since the 1940s.
Fracking started as a method to increase the production of conventional oil wells. The idea is that while some oil and natural gas is “pooled” in deep reservoirs that can be easily drilled and exploited, other fossil fuel reserves are more spread out, trapped in lots of small pockets over a large area. Fracking began as a way of consolidating those pockets into a nearby pool before drilling.
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In fracking, according to David Greenlee, a well is drilled—but before beginning to extract fossil fuel through the well, fluid is actually pumped in. This fluid is forced to a high-pressure state which causes it to crack open layers of rock deep underground. These cracks allow trapped pockets of oil or gas to run together, making it easy to extract them.
For sixty years, fracking was used in rich oil deposits – once per well – before extraction started. However, in the last few years, David Greenlee says that energy companies in Bowling Green and all over the world have been using it in never-before-seen ways, often doing multiple rounds of fracking on the same deposit, under the same well. This repeated fracking can make it possible to harvest fossil fuel fields that would previously have been considered too scarce to bother with. In other words, it can make oil and gas fields where there were none before.
The process also allows energy companies to maximize the yield they get even from traditional oil fields. That translates to more energy output and, potentially, a more energy independent future.
That’s why fracking is big news—and big business—in Bowling Green today. While people have many different perspectives on whether we should frack or how much, David Greenlee says the technology isn’t going away anytime soon.