Natural gas companies use a technique called hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) to crack holes in the rock and pump in high pressure liquids and other chemicals to force the natural gas out of the underground caves.
By the late 1970s, when energy crisis abated and oil prices dropped, a cheaper shale drilling technology was little past the drawing boards, and by the 1980s, the U.S. mostly lost interest in pursuing shale gas, says Dave Morehouse, a gas exploration expert with the Energy Information Administration. But the dream of tapping these huge reservoirs came back with force in the 1990s, he says, when energy explorers began to refine a process called horizontal drilling. This technique, which drills through a layer of shale, can complete a full 90-degree turn underground by boring with an angled coupling that can turn about 10 degrees per 100 feet.
Once the drill has turned completely horizontal, Engelder says, the drillers change to a bit that makes slight corrections, bobbing up and down by a degree or two, a movement he calls “porpoising.” With the horizontal hole in place, the team makes multiple fractures in the rock to release the gas. In the end, the well pulls natural gas from a far greater area than an old-fashioned vertical well.
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