In the frack van, as the pressure rises, O’Neil becomes alert. To the lay observer, there doesn’t seem to be much going on except for some rising numbers and lines on graphs. But to O’Neil and technicians, it’s high pressure time, and they are watching closely to see that the pressure stabilizes at the right level to push the gel and sand into the surrounding rock.
If the pressure mounts too high, that means something has stopped the flow.
“How each stage fracks is a little different,” O’Neil said. “One of the worst things that can happen on a frack job is when you get too high of pressure and it’s hard to put the sand away.”
Flowback and production: After fracking, the sand stays put, but the water comes out, bringing hydrocarbons with it. It’s Gosling’s job to analyze the flowback and see if the well is going to be commercially viable. While Finley is expecting oil in this case, the natural gas also will be captured and sold.
“It might never pay out,” Gosling said.
Usually the pressure from the fracturing injection is enough to cause flowback, but it can be pumped if needed. Fracking is expensive. On this particular well, it could cost Finley between $2 million and $2.5 million. It’s not unusual for millions to be spent on drilling before fracking ever starts.
If the well is deemed commercially viable, production begins. The production process separates the oil, gas and water that is produced at the well bore.
There are different types of crude oil. What the “Beverly Hillbillies” character Jed Clampett called “Black gold and Texas tea” can be black, brown, green, yellow, clear or, less commonly, purple.
Like crude oil, operators come in a wide variety. At the large end of the scale is ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron.