The flood of news about hydraulic fracturing, AKA fracking, creates the impression that the drilling technique driving the current U.S. oil and gas production boom is entirely new. But the mechanical principles of fracking are basically the same as they were when 19th-century wildcatters would drop an explosive charge down their borehole to shatter the rock that held the petroleum.
The modern version involves injecting a high-pressure mix of water and chemicals down the well hole to accomplish the same thing. That technique, along with horizontal drilling, has made it possible for producers to tap vast new plays of natural gas and oil trapped in tight sand and shale formations. Today’s technology is far more sophisticated, but the ABCs of fracking are not new.