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New Fracking Technologies Give U.S. Shale Boom New Boost

Russell Gold, The Wall Street Journal

Current top shale gas well produces five times as much as record setter a decade ago

Skeptics of the U.S. energy boom say it can’t last much longer because it requires drilling an ever-increasing number of wells.

But the boom already has lasted longer than anyone would have imagined just a decade ago and has more room to run. That’s because oil and natural-gas wells have become more productive—an unrecognized but potent trend that should keep the fuels flowing.

Back in 2003, the energy industry had just begun combining the techniques of drilling horizontal bores through shale and then using hydraulic fracturing—shooting tons of water, chemicals and sand into the rocks.

Four Sevens Oil Co. drilled the best gas well that year, in the Barnett Shale, just north of Fort Worth, Texas, according to Drillinginfo, an industry data service that searched its records at the request of The Wall Street Journal.

Four Sevens used what was then considered a whopping 2.8 million gallons of liquid and 221,000 pounds of sand in fracking the well, named the Braumbaugh after the family that owned the mineral rights.

At its peak, 5.9 million cubic feet of gas a day rushed up the well. “We were real happy with it,” says Four Sevens co-founder Dick Lowe. When the state published the production data, competitors were envious.

Today, the Braumbaugh looks like a pipsqueak.

Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. drilled the best gas well in the U.S. last year, in Susquehanna County, Pa., about 110 miles northwest of Manhattan. Drilling longer horizontal legs and fracking the well repeatedly, Cabot pumped in 12.5 million gallons of liquid, more than four times the amount Four Sevens had employed, and used 13.3 million pounds of sand.

The well produced 30.3 million cubic feet a day—five times as much as the Four Sevens record setter a decade earlier.

“That’s a pretty damn good well,” Mr. Lowe says. “I might have dreamed of drilling a well that size.”

The U.S. oil-and-gas industry no longer spends its time trying to find new shale formations to tap. Instead, it focuses on finding ways to get more out of the formations it has found. And it is succeeding.

As a result, the U.S. has become the world’s largest energy producer, natural-gas prices have remained low and U.S. oil output has helped prevent rising crude prices around the world.

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