According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), hydraulically fractured horizontal wells accounted for 69 percent of all the wells that were drilled for the extraction of natural gas and oil in the U.S. in 2016. Additionally, they accounted for 83 percent of the total linear footage drilled.
Since October of 2011, hydraulically fractured horizontal well drilling has been the prominent method of developing new U.S. natural gas and crude oil. Its continued use will be a crucial contributor to the record levels of production that is anticipated for 2018.
Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling a well vertically to a certain depth and then bending that path until it extends horizontally. Because these wells are longer, and the drilling process more complex, a horizontal well is typically more expensive to create. However, it’s also expected to produce more crude oil and natural gas.
Horizontal drilling also allows more of the wellbore to remain in contact with the producing formation, increasing the amount of natural gas or oil that can be recovered. Hydraulic fracturing is a completion technique, meaning it is performed after the oil or natural gas well has been drilled. The method has been practiced for many years but has only recently become a significant part of U.S. production.
Hydraulic fracturing involves forcing a liquid under high pressure from a wellbore against a rock formation until it fractures. The injected fluid contains a proppant—usually sand or a human-made granular solid—that wedges open the expanding fractures. The proppant keeps the fracture open, allowing crude oil and natural gas to flow from the surface area to the drilled hole, and then to the surface.
In 2016, total drilled footage reached nearly 13 million feet, and about 10.7 million of that was hydraulically fractured and horizontally drilled. The length of the horizontal section can range from a few hundred feet to several miles. By the end of 2016 about 670,000 of the 977,000 producing wells were hydraulically fractured and horizontally drilled.