Wilson County News October 31, 2012 3,338 views 1 comment
Large tractor-trailers hauling strange contraptions and burly men dressed in jumpsuits are just some of the indications that life in South Central Texas is rapidly changing. Much of the activity can be attributed to the ongoing exploration for oil and natural gas located deep underground, in a formation known as the Eagle Ford shale. Various media professionals from South Texas were taken on a tour Aug. 30, which was sponsored by Pioneer Natural Resources.
Extracting the oil and natural gas occurs through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” which begins with boring a hole thousands of feet below the earth’s surface.
Wayne Scott, the Eagle Ford completion education manager for Pioneer, demonstrated an active fracking operation at a gas well site in DeWitt County. He said that the well at his location was vertically drilled for approximately 13,000 feet before being horizontally drilled for 18,270 feet.
To extract the gas from the well, Pioneer uses a viscous mixture of water, guar, sand consisting of manmade ceramic, and chemicals known as “proppant” into the well head. Scott said that at most pumping jobs, pressure at the surface is 10,000 pounds per square inch. This pressure causes fractures measuring approximately 1/10-inch thick, which travel approximately 500 feet away from the well bore. When these fractures form, it causes natural gas to escape before it is extracted at the well head.
Scott said it takes approximately two weeks of fracking before a well produces gas. This includes five days of preparation at the site, before a fleet of tractor-trailers called a “frac fleet” arrives. These trucks will include sand haulers, tankers, and those hauling cement for the well casing.
A group of trucks hauling pumps and tanks also will arrive to the frac site. Scores of these trucks will park within inches of each other, and each will be connected.
An additional truck, which hauls an air-conditioned office trailer, contains computers and radio equipment used to communicate with the drivers of the trucks carrying the pumps and tanks, which are used to force the fluid into the ground.
“Ready,” says a man wearing a headset and seated in the center of several computer monitors, as the diesel motors on each of the trucks rev higher. Plumes of diesel exhaust billow from clattering weather caps atop each pump, as pressure gauges inside the trailer indicate that the fluid is being pumped at an ever-increasing rate.
Scott said Pioneer pumps 12 individual frac jobs on the well before plugs are placed in the bore, at a distance of every 22 inches. The steel plugs have an expanding rubber gasket that will form tension against the cement casing, which will seal the hole.
Industry experts continue to stress the safety of hydraulic fracturing, which has come because of numerous advances in chemistry and technology. In Texas, recent legislation requires well operators to disclose the ingredients used in frac fluids. Further information about the chemicals and concentrations used in each well throughout the state is available at http://fracfocus.org.
Fracking also is used to extract crude oil. Those on the Aug. 30 tour also visited an oil rig in northwest Bee County. The rig is operated by Helmerich & Payne, of which Marathon Oil is the largest customer. Lee Warren of Marathon said that four crews of six men apiece work at the rig site with shifts around the clock. The workers live on the rig site in mobile homes, some with signs urging passersby to be quiet lest they interrupt sleep.
The economic windfall of the Eagle Ford shale is in its infancy. Warren said her company currently invests $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion per year in the Eagle Ford shale play. At the end of 2011, she said, there were as many as 15,000 barrels of oil being extracted from the Eagle Ford each day. That number has doubled this year, and it is expected to double again next year.
Watch for more on the Eagle Ford shale play and its impact on the area in future issues of the Wilson County News.