Fracking 101: An Explanation for Those of You Who Are Fractivists

ConservanciesGeorge P. Ahearn, Phd
Co-founder and Former President and CEO
GEO Specialty Chemicals, Inc.


A simple lesson in fracking for those of you who are fractivists and simply don’t understand the process, the safety of the material used or plain reality.

The Process

Hydraulic fracturing (a/k/a fracking) is a process for creating a large number of open pathways in the reservoir rock or shale, which allows the oil and gas stored in the pore structure to easily flow towards a wellbore. In effect, it extends the wellbore from about 7 inches to 20 feet! In shale rock, where the flow paths between these pores is very small (oil and gas will only flow 5-10 inches a year, naturally) the effect is astounding.


Once fractured, oil will literally drain into these pathways. All this is possible since the development and perfection of directional drilling which permits us to drill horizontal wellbores from vertical wells and operate as many as 16 wells from a single surface drilling pad. It has changed the cost, efficiency, and look of a typical oil field and made us a world energy giant once again.

Once we have created these cracks in the oil formation, we need to keep them open. Sand and other similar ceramic materials are used – this is called a proppant, since it literally props and holds open the cracks for an extended period of time. Water is 99% of the fluid used to create the fracs, because it is cheap, easy to use, safe and readily available. The amounts used in the massive fracs done in shale reservoirs, may seem like a lot, but it is only a small fraction of the amount used in a small city each day or on, say, a golf course, both of which are required continuously. A frac job lasts for only 3-5 days.


The Design

In order to design a frac treatment, the engineer always considers all aspects of the operation. Like a master chef, he works with his team to put together a perfect product with safe and pure ingredients, and at the most economical cost to his client. These include the right amount of pressure, water, and chemicals required, the dimensions of the resultant fracture created i.e. height, length, width, volume etc. and the amount of oil and gas forecasted to be produced; and finally the cost of the operation and the expected financial return. These are not easy calculations and require complex computer simulation programing.

The Operation

Properly managed, the operation will minimize the disturbance to the local community, so movement of trucks and equipment, and the noise and dust produced are evaluated and accommodated for, based on the location. The water source is carefully chosen based on availability, quality, and composition. The potential for any contamination of drinking water aquifers is avoided by the surface casing which extends greater than 1000 ft. down into the wellbore and isolates any aquifer via a thick layer of casing cement, steel casing, and steel drill pipe.

In the horizontal wellbore it is impossible for fractures to extend upwards far enough to allow gas or oil to leak or migrate into these aquifers since the distance from the producing zone may be 1-3 miles below the aquifer and the oil or gas will naturally flow towards the much lower pressure in the wellbore rather than upwards against gravity and through miles of impermeable rock.

Steps are also taken to avoid surface spills which may seep down into the ground water. If a major spill occurs, the ground is excavated and taken to a waste facility where the spilled oil or fluid is recovered and sold to a refiner or reused.  We know that backflush water may contain some hydrocarbons and residual chemicals, but it can be easily treated and re-used, hence, reduce the amount of new water required.

Environmental Myths

The chemicals used for fracturing are mostly environmentally friendly and each has a specific function, many can be found in your household, and all can be used safely. The objective is to minimize the amounts used, and, in contrast to the claims of anti-fracking activists, a frac fluid does not contain hundreds of dangerous or toxic chemicals, typically it would contain less than a dozen safe ones.

There is nothing secret about them. You can find a directory and explanation of their function by going to . Contrary to what you hear in the media.

The emissions in a frac treatment are far less than those from the constant stream of cars and trucks on our highways, however, the workers may require protection from pump emissions in the immediate area. Spills are far less frequent and more controlled than the accidents that occur daily outside the petroleum industry.

Also, we know that households in certain parts of the world have naturally occurring gas in their water supply from long before fracturing ever came along. Apparently this is new to Hollywood, so they make movies about it and blame fracking. Research shows that in older gas fields this was due to poorly built and cemented gas wells, new methods and materials have virtually eliminated this problem.


Risk vs Reward

Hundreds of frac jobs are performed every day by engineers and technicians who are experienced and competent and capable of minimizing any risks associated with the process, just as we do in many other industries that are important to our economy. Thanks to fracking we can now see a path to energy self-sufficiency near term, and we have added an additional 4 million bbl/day to our national production in the last 5 years and trillions of barrels to our oil and gas reserves.

When you calculate the risk/benefit to our society, there is no question that this process may be the single most important economic development for our country in recent history, and it has finally broken the stranglehold that the OPEC oil cartel had on global oil supply and prices.

George P. Ahearn was the co-founder and President, Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman of GEO Specialty Chemicals, Inc. from its inception in 1993 until he left in 2005. The company specializes in water treatment, additives, and chemical process aids.  Prior to that time, he was President and Chief Operating Officer of the Hall Chemical Company, a maker of specialty metal-based chemicals from 1988-1992.  Mr. Ahearn was employed for 28 years by Exxon Corporation and Exxon Chemical from 1960-1988, holding various executive positions in research and the business.He was appointed in 2014 to the Board of Directors of Economic Incubators, Inc., a joint venture between Collier County and Enterprise Florida a business accelerator to assist the growth of entrepreneurial companies in the area.

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18 thoughts on “Fracking 101: An Explanation for Those of You Who Are Fractivists

  1. Excellent presentation, Mr. Ahearn.
    The numerous images of active oil wells throughout the Los Angeles area might surprise some, especially the long running THUMS operation in Long Beach.

    Virtually all of these wells are routinely fractured in the conventional, relatively low volume hydraulic process to assist in production.

    • Coffeeguy – check Frac Focus website and outside of THUMS, three up in the Valley years ago and a few around Los Cienegas ops, there are few frac jobs conducted in the LA Basin. When CA was fracing a few years ago, the vast majority of the frac jobs were in central Kern County, around the Belridge Giant oil field. It is still way to complicated to figure out yet as the drillers were having a hard time staying in formation on the HZ leg. Time will show that the country’s most massive amount of shale reserves are in the San Joaquin Basin and one day, the LA Basin. Most of all the LA Basin’s six thousand wells were drilled vertically or directionally years ago.

      • I’ve done non-gas consulting work in the San Joaquin valley and while it’s beautiful, they could use an economic shot in the arm.

        • You think? Interestingly, while the State preserved its lead role for permitting, as opposed tot the EPA stepping in five years ago, it passed legislation to allow Kern County to provide, for a modest fee, the now required EIR for drilling new wells. This was a great move, even under Moonbeam, as it sets the time and cost definitively. However, the “bargain” had one string – if the land is a split estate, then there now needs to be approval from the surface owner. That provision is finally being litigated as it is an unconstitutional taking of the mineral owner’s rights…in my opinion. It never ends.

  2. The impacts are also “astonishing”…
    Who would have thought that our water and air would be adversely affected…!

    There are not miles of “impermeable rock”…the shale has many natural fractures…and other formations….have fractures…in Pennsylvania, at least.
    I saw the inside of my water well and saw many natural fractures in the formations just below the casing and that was about
    ten to 20 feet down…

    Pa. DEP has found hundreds of cases of gas migration that comes up in the casing and well bore and also into the aquifer and has faulted the gas companies for violating and contaminating our aquifers….
    If it cannot travel upwards, then can the gas travel out from casing failures into our aquifers..?

    “Emissions in a frac process are less than highway traffic…”
    well most of us in my county don’t live near a highway, but in rural areas and it’s next to our homes and schools..
    so, need we be concerned about these toxic emissions..?

    Our homes have pre-tests and most of them show no methane in the water and when there is contamination
    and methane migration, the amounts soar over any normal background amounts…

    Along, with the methane comes increased amounts of heavy metals and some chemicals..

    Ask the folks in my county and throughout Pa., whether fracking is worth the risks when their water becomes unpotable and the air quality is less and the industrial noise is persistent and the light pollution replacing the dark nights and the gas industry truck traffic persists even after 9 years and more of fracking in our areas…

    You, obviously, don’t live next door to a frac site, compressor station, truck stop, water treatment plant, impoundment ponds, new, high-pressure pipelines…
    when you do, they you can speak of how wonderful this is..
    no Americans need be sacrificed for corporate profits…

    • Vera, please provide a reference or references to official PA DEP or USGS studies that validate your claim that “Pa. DEP has found hundreds of cases of gas migration that comes up in the casing and well bore”

      “Who would have thought that our water and air would be adversely affected…!” – – ask the Susquehanna River Basin Commission . . . .no impact on the river, as determined by 50+ on-stream water sampling stations that have been running since 2010.

      “as industry truck traffic persists even after 9 years and more of fracking in our areas…” and how many trucks full of milk are out and about making pickups at dairy farms every day of the year? Your county has about as many dairy farms as it does gas wells. Once a well is on line, the trucks stop running to the site. The cows get milked twice a day, and the milk tankers keep running.

    • There are no references and you are one fat liar. No one lives next door to a frac site as there is no such thing. You might live next door or within a distance of a gas well that had been stimulated by a frac job; a service company cost that last about five days for the largest fracs. The next twenty years may not see one more frac. As to travelling up shale, rock and sandstone strata, without a fault, nothing will make it through impermeable rock and your brain is filled with rocks if you thinks so. Your comments are not adding anything but vituperative bs to the public discourse and I do not know why Tom allows Cretins like yourself to post on his website.


    So here is george ahearn back in the end of 2015 babbling about something he knows little about ” the antifracking movement” which he calls a religious conspiracy. He doesn’t appear to be able to make coherent arguments from the beginning though the end of his short essay, veers off into debating climate change plus he says the antifracking movement was led by the former president , Barack Obama. So? The antifracking movement wasn’t led by the former president and guess what? George isn’t credible on this subject.

  4. Very good post sir, and I appreciate your knowledge that the industry uses the correct term – fracing as in a frac job or sand frac. The word mavens of the WSJ, API, NYT years ago thought fracing sounded and read better putting a “k” in it, as the eco terrorists also like the addition as an onomatopoeia.
    As to the mental twit’s posting (Scoggins) not one of her demented statements are based upon reality or the truth. It would be nice if Tom stops posting this vile human’s nonsense as the only thing she is good at is irritating normal persons. She is a stain on any article so why give her any attention as her statements mean nothing to anybody, other than the like minded trolls she commiserates with? Otherwise, except for the Scoggins oil slick, this is an excellent post for the non-industry folks.

  5. Ok, I hate to be a naysayer. I really do appreciate when there is a post that explains the process. HOWEVER, please, please, please update and use images that are closer to scale. Pennsylvania no longer has frac ponds and does not allow wells to be flared. Also, the scale really does not give people an accurate picture of just how far down the wells are from the surface. If I did not know anything about the industry, no matter what this blog was about, that picture would have made me side with those opposed. No matter how good the explanation, the picture is what people will remember.

  6. The truth – fracking is safer than many things normal people do every day such as using cars or stepping on an office stool to fetch something from the top shelf. Its also far safer than EURO6 diesel engines which makes us sick and kill hundred thousands every year. But we are used to this massacre so we chose to be blind to it – but fracking which has not seriously harmed anyone yet is the devil on the wall. We have a serious problem with the facts.

    • But it has made some anti-frac activist major money developing films and writing books that are basically works of fiction. It kind of nice to have those hair brained individuals posting on this site so that the public can see their lack of mental lucidity and factual acuity.

  7. Great article, thanks.
    This accords very well with all I have read over the past few years, & I’ve invested in a good number of quality books to garner the facts.

    The extremely worthy environmental movement has been hijacked by Communists looking for a cause when the Berlin Wall fell, & emotionally incontinent persons impervious to facts & figures. They fail to see that cheap & plentiful energy, coal, gas & oil has been the greatest boon in history to mankind, in terms of length & quality of life. Any study of history will show this.

    Yet traditional energy has become dirty, mankind is now a cancer on the planet, & CO2 (Carbon Dioxide, plant food) has become Carbon & a pollutant & a major driver of climate, causing a warming which hasn’t happened for about 20 years.

    This is sheer madness, complete ascientific lunacy, well funded from taxpayers money by dunce Western Govts. Much hyped by Corporate & therefore Bankster owned MSSM media, the CO2 warming scam is a fraud on humanity second only to the massive swindle of money creation out of thin air by privately owned central banks. But that’s another story.

    Thank God Russia & China aren’t following this anti-industrial path to civilisational suicide, & thank God Trump’s govt is calling a halt to this madness.

    Books I recommend:
    Heaven and Earth global warming: the missing science, by geology Prof Ian Plimer.
    The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science, by Climatologist

    Pawns in the Game, by William Guy Carr.
    The Creature from Jekyll Island, by G. Edward Griffin.

    Intelligent debate on matters environmental.
    Click on Quotes.

    YouTube & Matt Ridley on Fossil Fuels Greening the Planet
    19 mins.

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