Oil and natural gas wells dot the Oklahoma landscape. But how did they get there and how long will they stay? Here’s a breakdown of the life cycle of these energy-producing wells.
Step 1: Planning
It takes years to plan an entire development, but a single well typically takes about 18 months, depending on where the well is located.
Once all the research is complete and geologists find their site, the well must go through an extensive review and approval process. In Oklahoma, this includes getting the land lease, a spacing order, the permit for drilling and more.
Step 2: Drilling
Once a site is selected and approved, drilling can begin. It takes an average of 50 to 60 days to drill the well to its target depth, which, with modern technology like horizontal drilling, could be up to two miles underground and up to two miles horizontally.
First, a hole is drilled well below the freshwater aquifer. Steel casings and high-grade protective concrete are then added to protect the underground water. Once this is completed, the drilling can continue to the target depth.
Step 3: Completions
Once the well is drilled, oil and natural gas need to be released for extraction. Since the 1940s, producers have used a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to create or re-create small fractures in the rock formation to stimulate production.
Fracking uses a high-pressure water mixture consisting of a 99.5% mix of water and sand and 0.5% of chemical additives – which are agents that help reduce friction and prevent corrosion, and are found in many household products.
This process opens tight rock formations to allow the oil and natural gas resources to flow up to the surface. This technique paired with other modern technologies, is unlocking more energy resources than ever before putting the U.S. atop of energy producing countries.
Step 4: Production
Once the well is completed, oil and natural gas are ready to be produced and collected. If needed, a pump jack is placed at the wellhead, and works mechanically to pull liquid oil up the wellbore. Most wells produce oil, natural gas and saltwater. These three resources are pumped and then separated above the surface.
Tanks hold and transport the oil and natural gas resources through pipelines that expand across the country providing communities energy.
Oil and natural gas production of one well can last up to 20-30 years.
Step 5: Shutting In
After its years of producing energy resources, a well finally reaches retirement. Operators remove tubing, fill the wellbore and casing with concrete, cut the casing off well below the surface, weld a cap onto the top and cover it with soil, returning the landscape to its natural state.
Energy production is an extensive process that takes decades of hard work, planning and execution, all to produce the energy resources the world needs.