The Texas Well That Started the Fracking Revolution

By Russell Gold

Twenty years ago this month, a well was drilled here that changed the world.

Nick Steinsberger

Nothing at the time suggested the unassuming well in this rural town north of Fort Worth would hobble OPEC, the powerful oil cartel that had governed prices of the world’s most important commodity for more than a generation. Or that it would help turn the U.S. into a global energy exporter, or shuffle the geopolitical deck.

But it did all of that—and more. The well used hydraulic fracturing to crack the incredibly tight shale rocks below. It fired the first shot in the fracking revolution—a blast soon felt in Riyadh, Tehran and Moscow.

“I had no idea it would cause so much change. I was just trying to keep my job,” said Nick Steinsberger on a recent visit to the well pad. He was the engineer who obtained permission to try a new approach to completing the well that had been drilled a mile and a half deep into a thick grey wedge of rock known as the Barnett Shale.

Mr. Steinsberger, now 54, called the experiment “my slick-water frack.” It was the first commercially successful use of sand, water and chemicals, pumped into the shale under high pressure, to break open the rock and unleash the natural gas trapped inside. It was the beginning of modern fracking.

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