Natural Gas Extraction
How is natural gas extracted and how is it transported? Natural gas is extracted using a variety of methods depending on geology, including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Here we explain the four steps involved to find natural gas, how natural gas is extracted, processed and delivered.
Exploration & Natural Gas Extraction
Natural gas is extracted using a variety of methods depending on geology, including vertical drilling, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
Vertical drilling was the first type of natural gas extraction technique used, and was the only type used until the 1980s, when horizontal drilling was invented. Vertical drilling is still used in some instances today, where natural gas formations are directly below the earth’s surface. In vertical drilling, wells are drilled straight down into the earth, directly into porous rock formations that hold natural gas. This is also called “conventional” natural gas.
Horizontal drilling began in Texas in the 1980s as a way to access natural gas formations that were previously inaccessible. In horizontal drilling, a flexible drilling pipe is used with a steerable drill bit. Using this technology it is possible to bend a vertical well at a target depth and then drill horizontally through the natural gas deposit.
Hydraulic Fracturing in Canada
Hydraulic fracturing pumps fluid into the well at high pressure, causing tight reservoir rock to crack and release the flow of natural gas. Much of the undeveloped natural gas in Western Canada is trapped in less porous rock – often shale – called a “tight” formation. Hydraulic fracturing is required to produce natural gas from such formations. Also called “unconventional” natural gas.
Development of Natural Gas Wells
When a natural gas deposit has been selected for development, the company negotiates surface access rights with the landowner and a crew drills the well.
If the natural gas deposit is located in tight rock, hydraulic fracturing may be required to help open the rock so the natural gas can flow to the surface.
Once the natural gas is freely flowing, the well is completed by replacing the drilling equipment with a wellhead connected to gathering pipelines that move the natural gas to processing facilities.
Natural Gas Processing
Natural gas flows through gathering pipelines to processing facilities called gas plants. There, the natural gas is separated from water, impurities and other gases such as sulphur dioxide. Some gas plants also remove natural gas liquids (NGLs) such as ethane, propane, and butane. When natural gas processing is finished, the cleaned natural gas is ready for distribution to consumers.
Distribution, Delivery and Storage
A network of pipelines moves natural gas safely from the processing facilities to end users. The largest of these pipelines, which often cross provincial boundaries, are called transmission pipelines. At the final destination, local distribution companies or gas utilities deliver natural gas to homes and businesses. Natural gas may also be stored in underground facilities for later use.