Quicktake: what is fracking?

Oman and Abu Dhabi have deployed hydraulic fracturing technology to extract oil and gas

Saudi Aramco Awards BHGE Major Well Services Contract. Courtesy Baker Hughes
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Fracking, which has revolutionised the US energy industry, is being increasingly adopted by Middle Eastern oil and gas producers who have sought tie-ups with western firms to unlock unconventional reserves. We explain what the technology is and how it is being deployed in the region.

What is fracking?

Fracking, the shortened version of hydraulic fracturing, pumps steam mixed with chemicals into rocks under extremely high pressure which releases the gas trapped between clay-like rocks called shale.

What can be extracted through fracking?

Typically unconventional, or hydrocarbon reserves, that are not easily extracted otherwise are released through the process of fracking. The products are usually gas and/or oil.

Where was this technology developed?

North America has been at the forefront of fracking, due to the presence of large reserves of unconventional hydrocarbons in large reservoirs such as the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford in the United States. Drillers in the US have managed to improve on the method during the three-year lull in oil prices to frack for oil and gas efficiently. This has led to a surge in US shale production, making the US the top global producer for oil, with 11 million barrels per day towards the end of 2018, propelling it to become a net exporter for crude.


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Why is it a critical component to the GCC’s energy strategy?

Despite the fact that much of the oil in the Middle East, which accounts for 35 per cent of global crude reserves, is largely conventional (meaning it's cheap and easy to extract), significant quantities of oil and gas are trapped in so-called 'tight reserves'. Bahrain announced last year for instance that it had found 80 billion barrels of shale oil offshore, as well as significant reserves of tight gas onshore - one of the largest such discoveries in the energy sector last year.

Abu Dhabi announced towards the end of last year that it had discovered significant hydrocarbon deposits equal to a one per cent addition to existing oil reserves and adding 7.1 per cent more to proven gas reserves. While it is not clear just how much of this discovery is unconventional, the state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Company has said fracking would be critical to unlock future oil and gas deposits.

What efforts are underway in the GCC to deploy fracking?

Oman has already deployed fracking at a $16 billion project at Khazzan, operated by BP, to unlock tight gas reserves. Adnoc has also used fracking to drill for oil in the western Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi. The company signed a drilling partnership agreement with US energy services firm Baker Hughes to tap into its expertise on fracking for oil and gas in the UAE.