Energy Drilling for Shale Gas by David Rotman January 2, 2013 Arkansas’s Fayetteville Shale is among the rich deposits of natural gas that are now accessible using advanced drilling and hydrofracturing technologies. After drilling a well, a worker prepares the rig to be moved to another site. The drill bit above, made of tungsten carbide and synthetic diamonds, was designed for the shale. This story is part of our January/February 2013 Issue See the rest of the issue Subscribe Right, in the yard adjacent to the well is the apparatus needed to support the complex drilling operations, including the electric equipment that powers the rig. Left, pipes head out from multiple wells to a compressor, where the gas will be pressurized and sent to transmission pipelines. In an enclosed cabin on the drilling platform, Waylon Boad can monitor the drilling, using information from a deck of advanced gauges and video screens. A short distance from where rig #26 is finishing up, a drilled well is being hydrofractured. Gene Yates supervises the procedure, in which water at up to 8,000 pounds per square inch is pumped into the well and out through holes in the horizontal pipe, “fracturing” the shale and allowing gas trapped in it to flow into the pipe. Fresh water for fracking is pumped to the site and treated by means of an ozone-based process to destroy bacteria. In a trailer next to the wells, workers monitor the fracking, keeping a close eye on the pressure. Sand is used as a “proppant” to keep the microfractures in the shale open. Left, the three blue wells are surrounded by white trucks at the fracking site; water from the trucks is pumped down the wells. Right, after a well is fracked, it’s ready for production. The gas is piped to condensers, where water is removed before the gas moves to pipelines. An artificial pond supplies water needed for fracking yet more wells. Despite the glut of cheap natural gas in the United States, business is booming for Southwestern. Million-dollar fracking trucks in its brand-new fleet await assignments.