While we often think of oil and gas as being old styles of energy production, the world didn’t have easy, consistent, cost-effective access to natural gas drilling until roughly 20 years ago in 1995. It was in central Texas that struggle inspired opportunity and forced the invention of hydraulic fracturing as we now know it.
A man by the name of Nick Steinsberger was a dedicated employee for the Mitchell Company, a major competitor in the oil industry. He had just earned himself a promotion to oversee the Barnett Shale Basin, including an area near Justin, Texas. Unfortunately, by this time, the Barnett Shale Basin had basically run dry, at least dry by typical oil standards of the day. There was no profitable production happening in that area at the time. Steinsberger was stuck between a rock and a hard place: lose his job or find a whole new way to access natural gas deposits.
At the time, the common technique for mining natural gas involved injecting a very expensive chemical gel compound into a miles-deep well. While this would release natural gas deposits, it was costly at roughly $1 million a well. Steinsberger’s approach was simple. Much like a bartender watering down drinks to save money on liquor, he wondered what would happen if Mitchell Company was able to chip away at the costs associated with a well site in order to make the Barnett Shale Basin a more profitable investment.
It started with just a little bit of water in the chemical gel to see if comparable amounts of natural gas could be removed. Slowly, Steinsberger kept increasing the amount of water that he used to dilute the gel and found that he was getting similar amounts of natural gas production, if not more. But this wasn’t conclusive proof that this process would work. The final step was showing that a drill could extract natural gas with just water and, Steinsberger guessed, a little bleach and soap. No one in the industry thought it would be possible, but on a drill site near Justin, Texas, Steinsberger utilized the process of hydraulic fracturing for the very first time, and to many in the industry’s surprise, this process was able to extract more natural gas from the shale than the chemical gel method previously used. The best part was, however, that this process cost half as much to perform!
While a drill site may need different tools on site, like frac tanks and a rather large quantity of water, this process made natural gas affordable to extract, even from the toughest clay or bedrock. It revolutionized the energy industry, because now that the price of natural gas could go down, it became a more cost efficient product in the energy creation process. One man’s need and sheer willpower to keep his job brought about an industry-changing process.
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