An engineer named George Mitchell and his company, Mitchell Energy, spent years searching for a way to free natural gas from this source rock. He finally succeeded when he figured how to drill horizontally, into and then along a layer of source rock. That allowed him to access the gas throughout a layer of source rock with a single well. Then he used a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” to create tiny cracks in the rock that would allow natural gas to flow into and up the well.
The United States, which was facing a gas shortage five years ago, now has such enormous supplies it is looking to export the fuel in large volumes for the first time.
The common wisdom in the industry was that the process Mitchell had invented for natural gas wouldn’t work for oil. Oil molecules are bigger and stickier than gas molecules, so petroleum engineers believed it would be impossible to get them to flow from source rock, even if the rock were cracked by fracking. But Mark Papa, the CEO of a small oil and gas company called EOG Resources, didn’t accept that.
“The numbers were too intriguing, the prize was so big,” he remembered.
He thought there could be as much as a billion barrels of oil within reach in Texas, North Dakota and elsewhere – if only he could squeeze it out.
In 2003, he had a “eureka!” moment while poring over pictures of rock. Sections of a 40-foot-long column of source rock had been run through a CT scanner, the same type used to peer into the human body.
He saw something in the source rock sections the rest of the industry didn’t know was there: a network of passageways big enough for oil molecules to pass through. Papa believed the passageways could act like rural roads for the oil to travel through. Fracking could then create superhighways for the oil to gather and feed into a pipe and up to the surface.<< previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 next >>
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