Hydraulic Fracturing

Unlocking America's Natural Gas Supply

What is "fracking"?

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a proven drilling method for extracting oil and natural gas from shale rock formations located deep beneath the earth’s surface. In the United States, an estimated 35,000 wells are processed with the hydraulic fracturing method and it is estimated that over one million wells have been hydraulically fractured since the first well was configured in the late 1940s.

How does it work?

During hydraulic fracturing, "fracturing fluids" consisting mainly of water and sand are injected under high pressure into the producing formation of shale (most commonly Marcellus Shale in the US) creating fissures that allow petroleum or natural gas to move freely from rock pores where it is trapped.

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The many parts of hydraulic fracturing in scale to the Empire State Building.

What is Marcellus Shale?

Marcellus Shale is a sedimentary rock buried thousands of feet beneath the earth’s surface, formed from mud and organic material. It stretches from upstate New York south through Pennsylvania to West Virginia and west to parts of Ohio. The natural gas created over millions of years as a byproduct of decomposition is trapped in tiny spaces and fissures within the rock.

Benefits of Hydraulic Fracturing

  • Fracking has unlocked massive new supplies of oil and clean-burning natural gas that increase America's energy security and improve our ability to generate electricity, heat homes and power vehicles for transportation.
  • It boosts local economies by creating hundreds of high-paying jobs. Energy-intensive manufacturing companies that had moved overseas for cheaper energy can now stay in the US, promising more jobs and higher incomes. In fact, the US oil and gas industry already supports 9.2 million jobs.
  • The short amount of time it takes for a well to be completed and fracking to take place is made up for by the decades of production it provides, as seen below.
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  • Naturally clean-burning gas drastically reduces carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse gas that is a main cause of global warming, by up to 30% when compared to fuel oil being burned.
  • The American Chemistry Council estimates a 25% rise in the production of ethane, a liquid derived from natural gas production critical to the manufacturing of chemicals and plastics. This could mean vast economic benefits for the nation.
  • Natural gas is highly reliable in any weather, and there are plentiful supplies of it for immediate use, as it is currently already meeting one-fourth of America's energy needs.
  • The process of fracking is entirely safe, with numerous precautions being taken by state regulators to ensure groundwater safety and waste management.
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"The use of horizontal drilling in conjunction with hydraulic fracturing has greatly expanded the ability of producers to profitably recover natural gas and oil from low-permeability geologic plays—particularly, shale plays."

- U.S. Energy Information Administration

Environmental Aspects

Is the groundwater safe from toxic chemicals as a result of fracking?

Yes. Studies by the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), an association of state regulators, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have clearly demonstrated the effectiveness of current state regulations in protecting water resources. When the GWPC studied the environmental risk of hydraulic fracturing, they found one complaint in the more than 10,000 coalbed methane wells reviewed – an Alabama well where problems were not related to fracturing according to the EPA.The EPA initiated its own study on coalbed methane hydraulic fracturing as well, and no significant environmental risks as a result of proper hydraulic fracturing were identified.

Even further precautions are being taken

All state drilling regulations specifically address groundwater protection, including requirements for the surface casing to be set below the lowest groundwater aquifer. This casing in combination with other steel casing and cement sheaths installed protects the groundwater with multiple layers of protection for the duration of the well's lifespan. Even more protection is offered by the impermeable rock formations that lie between the oil and natural gas formations and the groundwater.
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The process of preventing groundwater contamination during fracking to ensure public safety.

Wastewater management

Water used in the hydraulic fracturing process is usually managed and disposed of in one of three ways: injected in permitted disposal wells in accordance with Underground Injection Control regulations, delivered to water treatment facilities, or reused/recycled. State, regional and local regulators have developed a wastewater plan that ensures surface and groundwater quality. This includes establishing a baseline for water quality before drilling operations are begun. By following these guidelines, hydraulic fracturing is a perfectly safe system that the US should continue to fund for years to come.

If you ask me...

Hydraulic fracturing, though not yet a perfected system yet, has enormous benefits that easily outweigh the supposed dangers. Fracking has allowed us to easily recover abundant supplies of natural energy that America will depend on for generations to come. Natural gas is much cleaner than most common types of fuel, and switching over will result in immeasurable improvements to both the environment and America's economy.