How Sonic Drilling Can Help Ease Fracking Controversies
A Federal judge in Wyoming ruled in June 2016 against President Obama's Administration on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) regulations on federal land. U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled the U.S. Bureau of Land Management does not have the authority to issue rules governing fracking on federal and Indian lands. The ruling is likely to be appealed and the controversy over fracking will continue.
The fracking process involves injecting liquids at a high pressure to open up fissures in the rock that contains deposits of oil and natural gas. The technology has advanced to the point where contractors have been able to revitalize retired well fields and cost-effectively extract a significant amount of product. It has also turned "marginal" exploration sites into potentially highly productive sites. The problem is that some of these locations are in close proximity to residential areas and several claims have been made regarding the negative environmental impact of these operations, including causing small earthquakes and the contamination of drinking water supplies.
A Long and Varied History and an Uncertain Future
When did fracking start? That's a tricky question to answer. According to the Huffington Post t
here are several different possible answers. The history can be traced as far back as 1846, when cracks in rocks were used to generate more oil production. Researchers began testing the usage of liquids to fracture rock and shale in the mid-1940s, but the article suggests that the modern era of what we know as fracking began in 1998. After four failures, a fifth attempt finally used enough horsepower to break up the Barnett Shale.
The future of fracking, both in the U.S. and around the world, remains muddled. According to a December 16, 2015, article by the BBC
, the U.K. is strongly looking at fracking projects as a way to boost oil and gas production, but as of yet, no projects have begun.
Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron was quoted as saying, " I want us to get on board this change that is doing so much good and bringing so much benefit to North America. I want us to benefit from it here as well." Many members of Parliament remained uncertain, and with Cameron's recent resignation, it remains to be seen how quickly fracking will be embraced in the U.K.
Sonic Drilling Can Ease the Burden
Most stories about fracking today evaluate one side of the controversy or the other. What does not get as much coverage is the amount of research required before actual fracking can begin. Sites must be explored thoroughly to determine if there is a high potential for shale rock that would release natural gas under pressure. Sonic Drilling can help evaluate the probability of success before the environment is heavily impacted by invasive drilling.
The State of North Carolina is one location where the benefits of using Sonic Drilling before starting a fracking operation were discovered. North Carolina had not previously been host to any fracking projects, but in 2015 the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) thought the potential existed. The DENR called Patterson Exploration (Sanford, North Carolina) regarding the need for exploratory drilling in eastern North Carolina. According to Russ Patterson, holes were needed in a "perceived buried Triassic basin." The United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the DENR had concluded that there was a Triassic basin based on magnetic anomalies, but finding the basin was just step one. Patterson notes, "Once we drilled through the coastal plain sediments and encountered the 'basin' we were required to core a minimum of 30 feet of this 'buried basin.'"
Several different drilling methodologies could have been used for the project given the substrate. According to Patterson, however, the primary factor that needed to be considered was time. Patterson explains, "Site preparation and restoration would have added days to each drill location" if mud rotary or conventional coring methods had been used. Additionally, Patterson had worked with Terra Sonic International for years and wanted to show the DENR the benefits of Sonic Drilling.
Terra Sonic drilled three holes to depths ranging from 220' to 360'. The state had initially planned to drill eight holes but the scope of the project was reduced due to funding issues. The state already had samples from rotary water well logs, but Patterson knew that one of the benefits of Sonic Drilling is it produces nearly perfect in situ core samples which would be ideal for this kind of project.
Patterson collaborated with Terra Sonic International and a TSi 150T was chosen for the project. The TSi 150T Truck-Mounted Sonic Drill Rig is equipped with a 250 HP separate deck engine that powers all drilling and accessory hydraulic functions. Featuring the exclusive TSi 150 Sonic oscillator, the TSi 150T generates powerful sonic energy in the drill string to a rated drilling depth of up to 1,000 feet depending on casing design and lithology, a capability that made it perfect for this exploratory drilling work.
The 150T includes an extra large work platform and fold-down walkways so that drilling crews can work together efficiently and, most importantly, safely. Like all Terra Sonic International Sonic Drill Rigs, the 150T can drill through many substrates 3-5 times faster and sometimes 10 times faster than conventional drilling in most lithologies, with no refusal. The Sonic drill rig was also ideal for this particular project because Sonic Drilling minimizes Industry Derived Waste (IDW) and does not require using drilling fluids, so clean-up is easier and faster.
The end result of the exploratory drilling at this particular site saved the North Carolina DENR significant time and money because, as it turns out, the site was not a viable source of shale or natural gas. As Patterson notes,
"The 'Cumberland Marlboro Basin' contained metasediments, not hydrocarbon-bearing rocks." Given how efficiently and effectively Terra Sonic was able to produce high quality core samples, Sonic Drilling once again demonstrated its superior performance versus other drilling methods for this type of exploratory drilling.