Hydraulically fractured horizontal wells comprised 69% of all oil and natural gas well drilled in the United States and 83% of the total linear footage drilled in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has led to increased production of U.S. crude oil, lease condensate and natural gas. In 2018, crude and natural gas production are expected to reach record levels.
“Hydraulically fractured horizontal wells became the predominant method of new U.S. crude oil and natural gas development in October 2011, when total footage (in linear feet) surpassed all other drilling and completion techniques,” according to the EIA. “Although horizontal drilling has been used for nearly a century, its use as a source of U.S. oil and natural gas production began growing in the early 2000s. The process involves drilling a well vertically to a certain depth and then bending the path of the drilling until it extends horizontally.”
Horizontal wells are usually more expensive to drill than vertical wells because they are longer and the drilling is more complex, but horizontal wells are expected to produce more crude oil and natural gas, according to the EIA. “Horizontal drilling allows more of the wellbore to remain in contact with the producing formation, increasing the amount of oil or natural gas that can be recovered.”
In 2016, about 10.7 million feet of the total 13 million feet of drilled footage were hydraulically fractured and horizontally drilled. The horizontal section of a well can range between a few hundred feet to several miles. The majority of all new wells drilled since late 2014 have been hydraulically fractured horizontal wells, and about 670,000 of the 977,000 producing wells were hydraulically fractured and horizontally drilled.
Hydraulic fracturing is a technique completed after a well is drilled and involves forcing a liquid under high pressure from a wellbore against a rock formation until it fractures. The liquid includes a proppant, which is typically sand or man-made granular solids, and the proppant expands the fractures to allow the hydrocarbons, such as crude oil and natural gas, to flow more easily to the fractured rock formation, back to the wellbore and to the surface.