New Drilling Method Opens Vast Oil Fields in USSubmitted by Katherine on Wed, 02/09/2011 - 16:36
A new drilling technique is opening up vast fields of previously out-of-reach oil in the western United States, helping reverse a two-decade decline in domestic production of crude.
Companies are investing billions of dollars to get at oil deposits scattered across North Dakota, Colorado, Texas and California. By 2015, oil executives and analysts say, the new fields could yield as much as 2 million barrels of oil a day - more than the entire Gulf of Mexico produces now.
This new drilling is expected to raise U.S. production by at least 20 percent, or a million barrels per day, over the next five years. And within 10 years, it could help reduce oil imports by more than half, advancing a goal that has long eluded policymakers.
Oil engineers are applying what critics say is an environmentally questionable method developed in recent years to tap natural gas trapped in underground shale. They drill down and horizontally into the rock, then pump water, sand and chemicals into the hole to crack the shale and allow gas to flow up.
Environmental activist groups say that hydraulic fracturing has a significant environmental impact, with arguments centered around the extent to which fracturing fluid used far below the earth's surface and will pollute fresh water zones, will contaminate surface or near-surface water supplies, impact rock shelf causing seismic events or lead to surface subsidence. However, well casing failures and failures of the gas well grouting systems may have been responsible for gas migration into drinking water aquifers in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Also, water-related pollution events that occur from hydraulic fracturing are on or relatively-near the surface. With the transport, handing, storage and use of chemicals, and chemical-laden water, on sites, accidents that release materials into the environment may occur.