Hydraulic Fracturing

PDF versionPDF version

Hydraulic fracturing is a technique used in one step of the extraction of energy resources. Sometimes referred to as "fracking," its wide application over the last decade has led to debate over its risks and benefits.

Basics

Oil derrick in the Williston Basin, North Dakota. Image Credit: Joshua Doubek, Licensed under Creative Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Hydraulic fracturing opens narrow cracks in rock layers in order to allow oil, gas, or water to flow through the rock. During hydraulic fracturing, pressurized fluid is injected through a well into a subsurface rock layer in order to open the fractures. Hydraulic fracturing requires large volumes of water mixed with chemicals and proppants (often sand, used to "prop" open the fractures). These fluids must be recycled or disposed of in deep wells, separate from local water tables.[1]   Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

Latest News

The White House
(2018-01-04)
December 29, 2017 Following several executive orders issued by President Donald Trump earlier this year to suspend, revise, or rescind regulations or actions that unnecessarily burden the development of domestic energy resources, the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Environmental Protection...
Natural gas pump
(2017-03-06)
February 7, 2017 Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) introduced the Federal Land Freedom Act (S.335) and the Hydraulic Fracturing Regulations are Effective in State Hands Act (S.334) on February 7. These bills remove the authority of federal decision-makers to manage  energy resources on public lands. Sen....
Drilling rig
(2016-10-11)
September 6, 2016 On September 6, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued an order to the Obama Administration calling for further environmental review of the effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in California. The order comes in the wake of a Bureau of Land...
Nuclear power plant, Czech Republic
(2016-10-11)
September 8, 2016 House and Senate conferees for the Energy Policy Modernization Act met this September to discuss the progress they had made on reconciling the House (H.R. 8) and Senate (S. 2012) versions of the bill. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R - AK), author of the Senate version of the bill and...
Drilling rig
(2016-08-25)
August 11, 2016 The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) released its final report assessing EPA’s recent study of potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on drinking water resources. Congress requested the study in 2009, and EPA released its draft...
Drilling rig
(2016-06-30)
June 24, 2016 The U.S. District Court for Wyoming ruled that the Department of the Interior (DOI) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have no authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” on public and tribal lands. In 2015, Colorado, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming, as...
Natural gas pump
(2015-08-06)
July 15, 2015 At a July 15 hearing held by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Neil Kornze, Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), testified on BLM’s proposed regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal and tribal lands. Representatives inquired...
U.S. Supreme Court building
(2015-07-08)
June 24, 2015 A federal judge for the U.S. District Court of Wyoming has placed a hold on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) new rules for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. The BLM originally proposed these rules in 2012 to address underground injection of wastewater, which is currently the...
Drilling rig
(2015-03-04)
February 17, 2015 The United States Geological Survey (USGS) released a report on February 17 that examines trends in the spatial distribution, treatment fluids, additives, proppants, and water volumes for nearly 1 million hydraulically fractured wells and 1.8 million fracturing treatments during...
Drilling rig
(2015-02-03)
January 5, 2015 A report released January 5 by the Seismological Society of America (SSA) links hydraulic fracturing to earthquakes experienced in Ohio in 2014. Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting pressurized fluids into wellbores to open fractures in rock that release natural gas or...

Case Studies & Factsheets

Cover of Land Use in the Oil and Gas Industry

Introduction All energy production requires land. Reducing the land-use “footprint” of the energy industry is an important part of limiting environmental impacts while meeting our energy needs. Advanced exploration technologies such as 3D seismic imaging, and drilling technologies such as...

Screenshot of the USEITI case studies showing the Tarrant and Johnson counties case study highlighted
U.S. Department of the Interior

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Natural Resources Revenue, Information and Data Management has produced a series of case studies on extractive industries across the United States, focusing on coal, copper, gold, iron, natural gas, and oil. The case study on natural gas production...

Cover of What Determines the Location of a Well

Introduction Oil- and gas-rich rocks are only found in certain parts of the United States, so most of the country has no oil or gas wells. Where oil and gas production is commercially viable, many factors determine the exact location of each well, including leasing, permitting, competing land...

Cover of The Pinedale Gas Field, Wyoming

Introduction The Pinedale field is the sixth-largest gas field in the United States.1 The core development area covers about 70 square miles in a sparsely populated area of southwest Wyoming, 70-100 miles north of Rock Springs.2 In 2015, the Pinedale field produced 4 million barrels of gas...

Screenshot of the USEITI case studies showing the DeSoto Parish case study highlighted
U.S. Department of the Interior

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Natural Resources Revenue, Information and Data Management has produced a series of case studies on extractive industries across the United States, focusing on coal, copper, gold, iron, natural gas, and oil. The case study on natural gas production...

Cover of U.S. Regulation of Oil and Gas Operations

Overview Regulation of oil and gas operations has existed in various forms for over 100 years.1 Regulation has several objectives: protecting the environment (including air and water quality), protecting cultural resources, protecting workers’ and the public’s health and safety, and reducing...

Cover of Health and Safety in Oil and Gas Extraction

Introduction Hundreds of thousands of people work in oil and gas extraction in the United States;1 ensuring their health and safety is a major concern for employers, regulators, trade associations, industry groups, and local communities. Work in this industry involves physical labor, 24/7...

Cover of Spills in Oil and Natural Gas Fields

Introduction Oilfield spills can harm wildlife and pose a risk to human health if they reach fresh water sources or contaminate soil or air. The enormous size of the oil and gas industry and the huge volumes of oil and produced water that are handled, stored, and transported result in thousands...

Cover of Groundwater Protection in Oil and Gas Production

Introduction The United States relies on groundwater for roughly 25% of its fresh water.1 This groundwater is found in porous, permeable rocks (aquifers) that often lie close to the Earth’s surface – the deepest freshwater aquifers are found more than 6,000 feet underground,2 but most are much...

Cover of Induced Seismicity from Oil and Gas Operations

Manmade Earthquakes Any activity that significantly changes the pressure on or fluid content of rocks has the potential to trigger earthquakes. This includes geothermal energy production, water storage in large reservoirs, groundwater extraction, underground injection of water for enhanced oil...

Cover of Abandoned Wells

Introduction In 2017, there were one million active oil and gas wells in the United States.1 When a well reaches the end of its productive life, or if it fails to find economic quantities of oil or gas, the well operator is required by regulators to remove all equipment and plug the well to...

Cover of Water Sources for Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Demand Hydraulically fracturing a modern well can require millions of gallons of water for the initial fracturing process. This is a potential problem in arid regions with competing demands for fresh water (i.e. high water stress), such as Colorado and West Texas (...

Cover of Water in the Oil and Gas Industry

Introduction The oil and gas industry consumes and produces water. Water is used to drill and hydraulically fracture (“frack”) wells, refine and process oil and gas, and produce electricity in some natural gas power plants. Water is also naturally present in the rocks that contain oil and gas...

Cover of Petroleum and the Environment - an Introduction

Introduction When oil and gas were first extracted and used on an industrial scale in the 19th century, they provided significant advantages over existing fuels: they were cleaner, easier to transport, and more versatile than coal and biomass (wood, waste, and whale oil). Diesel and gasoline...

Cover of Geoscientists in Petroleum and the Environment

Introduction Geoscience – the study of the Earth – underpins our understanding of the many intersections between petroleum and the environment, from the search for resources to the study of air pollutants. Without the work of geoscientists, we would have neither the energy system nor the...

Cover of Using Produced Water

Opportunities and Concerns in Using Produced Water Produced water is natural groundwater that is extracted along with oil and gas. It is commonly salty and mixed with oil residues,1 so it must be either disposed of or treated and reused. About 2.5 billion gallons of produced water are extracted...

1 of 16

GOLI Online Courses

GOLI Course: Making Produced Water More Productive; Image credit: USGS/ Doug Duncan
Course Type: GOLI Online Course

Geoscience is essential to our understanding and management of produced water, an inevitable byproduct of oil and gas development. This course provides a scientific and regulatory background of produced water, how it is commonly disposed, what opportunities exist for the re-use of produced water...

Geological Surveys Database Publications

1994, New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Minerals

-------------------------- --------------------------- ------------------------ ------------------------------ ---------------------- -------------------

2011, Bureau of Economic Geology
Although gas production from the low-permeability, tight Cleveland Formation and underlying Marmaton Group in the northwest Anadarko Basin dates from the late 1950's, the sequence-stratigraphic setting and facies architecture of reservoir sandstones in the primary producing area in the basin...
2008, Oklahoma Geological Survey

-------------------------- --------------------------- ------------------------ ------------------------------ ---------------------- -------------------

1994, New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Minerals
Coalbed methane is playing an increasingly important role in meeting the energy needs of the United States. According to one estimate, this unconventional gas may supply 4 to 5 percent of the domestic natural gas in 1994. In the San Juan Basin, Fruitland Formation coal beds contain an estimated 43...
1994, New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Minerals

-------------------------- --------------------------- ------------------------ ------------------------------ ---------------------- -------------------

1994, New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Minerals

-------------------------- --------------------------- ------------------------ ------------------------------ ---------------------- -------------------

1970, West Virginia Geological & Economic Survey
Non-technical discussion of ground water and its relation to oil and gas pools, potential danger of salt water intrusion into fresh water supplies
2002, Ohio Geological Survey

-------------------------- --------------------------- ------------------------ ------------------------------ ---------------------- -------------------

2014, United States Geological Survey
About 355,000 million gallons per day (Mgal/d) of water was withdrawn for use in the United States during 2010, a decline of 13 percent from 2005 and a substantial change from the level of about 400,000 Mgal/d reported from 1985 to 2005. Withdrawals for 2010 were lower than withdrawals estimated...
2003, Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys

-------------------------- --------------------------- ------------------------ ------------------------------ ---------------------- -------------------