The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineers

Historical, Theoretical and Practical Perspectives on Hydraulic Fracturing - Title Page

 History and Applications of Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing (HF) as an industrial process was introduced into the petroleum industry by a paper written by J.B. Clark of Stanolind Oil Company in 1949. It represented a major step forward in reservoir stimulation and advanced hydrocarbon recovery technology, as previous fracturing methods usually entailed the introduction and detonation of dangerous explosives in the borehole by various means with the intent to break up the formation of interest and induce greater fluid flow up the borehole. HF was routinely used in conventional, vertical boreholes for decades.

Further technological advances such as directional drilling and multi-stage borehole segment isolation have contributed to the recent development of high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) commonly known as “fracking.” Such operations can require millions of gallons of fluid to open fractures and thousands of pounds of proppant to retain the aperture of this induced porosity. Besides the theoretical underpinnings and practical application of HVHF, there are many geopolitical and legal considerations. These include, among many others, dramatic changes in the volumes of economically extractable hydrocarbon reserves, concerns over future carbon emissions, HF waste water treatment, and aquifer contamination.

The 1967 paper by Haimson and Fairhurst laid the theoretical groundwork for determining in-situ stresses in the earth’s crust using HF. This technology is much less controversial than HVHF and is very commonly applied in many engineering, industrial, and academic situations. These two techniques—reservoir stimulation and in-situ stress measurements—remain the most important applications of the hydraulic fracturing method in the petroleum industry. This short literature review is meant to provide a theoretical basis for HF and highlight salient engineering challenges that still remain in its practical application.

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