An executive of the Illinois Oil & Gas Association told a group of local business leaders Friday that high-pressure hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, could “transform” an already robust energy industry in Illinois.
“Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing may transform the industry,” said Brad Richards of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association.
Richards, who lives in Fairfield, told a group at the monthly First Friday luncheon that the combination of high-pressure hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling present a marked departure from the way oil and gas are presently extracted.
“In the past, there were four elements (geological conditions) needed to find oil and gas,” Richards said.
First, he said, the area has to have a natural geological “trap” that keeps the mineral wealth accessible for extraction. Underneath the surface is a cap rock that keeps the minerals in place.
Below the cap rock must be a level of porous rock that enables drillers to get to what Richards called the “source rock” — the rock where the actual mineral wealth is located. In Illinois, that formation is known as New Albany Shale.
Richards said those geological conditions that lead to successful mineral extraction are relatively rare.
“They don’t occur in the same place very often,” he said.
But with high-pressure fracking coupled with horizontal drilling, producers don’t have to have the geological factors in place. All they need is the shale.
“We’re going directly to the oil shale,” he said. “Not all source rocks will produce oil and gas, but many will.
“You drill into the shale vertically and horizontally,” he said.
“Some of these wells can go horizontally for up to two miles,” he added.
Richards said oil production has been on the rise in the United States since the late 2000s.
“That would have been crazy talk a few years ago,” he said. But states like North Dakota and Texas have more than doubled their energy production in the last decade. Richards said the U.S. — already the world’s largest producer of natural gas — is expected to become the world’s largest oil producer by 2017.
Richards admitted that Illinois has taken a back seat to operations in several other states. But the ability to combine high-pressure fracking with horizontal drilling could change that, he said.
“We have been observers, but now 500,000 acres have been leased by energy producers,” he said.
High-pressure fracking has been opposed by a number of environmental groups, citing potential environmental harm. But Richards downplayed that opposition.
“A lot of folks who opposed this oppose everything,” he said.