Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hydraulic Fracturing ("fracking")

"Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", is, in essence, the extraction of natural shale gas that is trapped thousands of feet underground. How do we extract it and what does it look like? Is the process safe, and do the bold and controversial claims over fracking hold any weight?" Source: Economy Watch

Hydraulic fracturing is the propagation of fractures in a rock layer, by a pressurized fluid. Some hydraulic fractures form naturally—certain veins or dikes are examples—and can create conduits along which gas and petroleum from source rocks may migrate to reservoir rocks. Induced hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracturing, commonly known as fracing, fraccing, or fracking, is a technique used to release petroleum, natural gas (including shale gas, tight gas, and coal seam gas), or other substances for extraction.[1] This type of fracturing creates fractures from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations.

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The first use of hydraulic fracturing was in 1947 but the modern fracturing technique, called horizontal slickwater fracturing, that made the extraction of shale gas economical was first used in 1998 in the Barnett Shale in Texas.[1][2][3] The energy from the injection of a highly pressurized hydraulic fracturing fluid creates new channels in the rock, which can increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of hydrocarbons.

Proponents of hydraulic fracturing point to the economic benefits from vast amounts of formerly inaccessible hydrocarbons the process can extract.[4] Opponents point to potential environmental impacts, including contamination of ground water, risks to air quality, the migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, surface contamination from spills and flowback and the health effects of these.[5] For these reasons hydraulic fracturing has come under scrutiny internationally, with some countries suspending or banning it.[6][7]


Fracturing in rocks at depth tends to be suppressed by the confining pressure, due to the load caused by the overlying rock strata. This is particularly so in the case of "tensile" (Mode 1) fractures, which require the walls of the fracture to move apart, working against this confining pressure. Hydraulic fracturing occurs when the effective stress is reduced sufficiently by an increase in the pressure of fluids within the rock, such that the minimum principal stress becomes tensile and exceeds the tensile strength of the material.[8][9] Fractures formed in this way will in the main be oriented in the plane perpendicular to the minimum principal stress and for this reason induced hydraulic fractures in wellbores are sometimes used to determine the orientation of stresses.[10] In natural examples, such as dikes or vein-filled fractures, the orientations can be used to infer past states of stress.[11]


Most vein systems are a result of repeated hydraulic fracturing during periods of relatively high pore fluid pressure. This is particularly noticeable in the case of "crack-seal" veins, where the vein material can be seen to have been added in a series of discrete fracturing events, with extra vein material deposited on each occasion.[12] One mechanism to demonstrate such examples of long-lasting repeated fracturing is the effects of seismic activity, in which the stress levels rise and fall episodically and large volumes of fluid may be expelled from fluid-filled fractures during earthquakes. This process is referred to as "seismic pumping".[13]


High-level minor intrusions such as dikes propagate through the crust in the form of fluid-filled cracks, although in this case the fluid is magma. In sedimentary rocks with a significant water content the fluid at the propagating fracture tip will be steam.[14]

History of Hydraulic Fracturing

Fracturing as a method to stimulate shallow, hard rock oil wells dates back to the 1860s. It was applied by oil producers in the U.S. states of Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, and West Virginia by using liquid and later also solidified nitroglycerin. Later, the same method was applied to water and gas wells. The idea to use acid as a nonexplosive fluid for well stimulation was introduced in the 1930s. Due to acid etching, fractures would not close completely and therefore productivity was enhanced. The same phenomenon was discovered with water injection and squeeze cementing operations.[15]

The relationship between well performance and treatment pressures was studied by Floyd Farris of Stanolind Oil and Gas Corporation. This study became a basis of the first hydraulic fracturing experiment, which was conducted in 1947 at the Hugoton gas field in Grant County of southwestern Kansas by Stanolind.[1][15] For the well treatment 1,000 US gallons (3,800 l; 830 imp gal) of gelled gasoline and sand from the Arkansas River was injected into the gas-producing limestone formation at 2,400 feet (730 m). The experiment was not very successful as deliverability of the well did not change appreciably. The process was further described by J.B. Clark of Stanolind in his paper published in 1948. A patent on this process was issued in 1949 and an exclusive license was granted to the Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company. On March 17, 1949, Halliburton performed the first two commercial hydraulic fracturing treatments in Stephens County, Oklahoma, and Archer County, Texas.[15] Since then, hydraulic fracturing has been used to stimulate approximately a million oil and gas wells.[16]

In the Soviet Union, the first hydraulic proppant fracturing was carried out in 1952. In Western Europe in 1977–1985, hydraulic fracturing was conducted at Rotliegend and Carboniferous gas-bearing sandstones in Germany, Netherlands onshore and offshore gas fields, and the United Kingdoms sector of the North Sea. Other countries in Europe and Northern Africa included Norway, the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Tunisia, and Algeria.[17]

Due to shale's high porosity and low permeability, technology research, development and demonstration were necessary before hydraulic fracturing could be commercially applied to shale gas deposits. In the late 1970s the United States government initiated the Eastern Gas Shales Project, a set of dozens of public-private hydraulic fracturing pilot demonstration projects. During the same period, the Gas Research Institute (GRI), a gas industry research consortium, received approval for research and funding from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).[18] In 1977, the Department of Energy (DOE) pioneered massive hydraulic fracturing in tight sandstone formations. In 1997, based on earlier techniques used by Union Pacific Resources, now part of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Mitchell Energy, now part of Devon Energy, developed the hydraulic fracturing technique known as "slickwater fracturing" which involves adding chemicals to water to increase the fluid flow, that made the shale gas extraction economical.[2][3][19]

Induced Hydraulic Fracturing

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hydraulic fracturing is a process to stimulate a natural gas, oil, or geothermal energy well to maximize the extraction. The whole process is defined as including the acquisition of source water, well construction, well stimulation, and waste disposal.[20]


The technique of hydraulic fracturing is used to increase or restore the rate at which fluids, such as petroleum, water, or natural gas can be produced from subterranean natural reservoirs. Reservoirs are typically porous sandstones, limestones or dolomite rocks, but also include "unconventional reservoirs" such as shale rock or coal beds. Hydraulic fracturing enables the production of natural gas and oil from rock formations deep below the earth's surface (generally 5,000–20,000 feet (1,500–6,100 m)). At such depth, there may not be sufficient permeability or reservoir pressure to allow natural gas and oil to flow from the rock into the wellbore at economic rates. Thus, creating conductive fractures in the rock is pivotal to extract gas from shale reservoirs because of the extremely low natural permeability of shale, which is measured in the microdarcy to nanodarcy range.[21] Fractures provide a conductive path connecting a larger volume of the reservoir to the well. So-called "super fracing", which creates cracks deeper in the rock formation to release more oil and gas, will increase efficiency of hydraulic fracturing.[22] The yield for a typical shale gas well generally falls off sharply after the first year or two.[23]

While the main industrial use of hydraulic fracturing is in arousing production from oil and gas wells,[24][25][26] hydraulic fracturing is also applied:

  • To stimulate groundwater wells[27]
  • To precondition or induce rock to cave in mining[28]
  • As a means of enhancing waste remediation processes, usually hydrocarbon waste or spills[29]
  • To dispose of waste by injection into deep rock formations[30]
  • As a method to measure the stress in the earth[31]
  • For heat extraction to produce electricity in an enhanced geothermal systems[32]
  • To increase injection rates for geologic sequestration of CO2[33]


A hydraulic fracture is formed by pumping the fracturing fluid into the wellbore at a rate sufficient to increase pressure downhole to exceed that of the fracture gradient (pressure gradient) of the rock.[34] The fracture gradient is defined as the pressure increase per unit of the depth due to its density and it is usually measured in pounds per square inch per foot or bars per meter. The rock cracks and the fracture fluid continues further into the rock, extending the crack still further, and so on. Operators typically try to maintain "fracture width", or slow its decline, following treatment by introducing into the injected fluid a proppant – a material such as grains of sand, ceramic, or other particulates, that prevent the fractures from closing when the injection is stopped and the pressure of the fluid is reduced. Consideration of proppant strengths and prevention of proppant failure becomes more important at greater depths where pressure and stresses on fractures are higher. The propped fracture is permeable enough to allow the flow of formation fluids to the well. Formation fluids include gas, oil, salt water, fresh water and fluids introduced to the formation during completion of the well during fracturing.[34]

During the process fracturing fluid leakoff, loss of fracturing fluid from the fracture channel into the surrounding permeable rock occurs. If not controlled properly, it can exceed 70% of the injected volume. This may result in formation matrix damage, adverse formation fluid interactions, or altered fracture geometry and thereby decreased production efficiency.[35]

The location of one or more fractures along the length of the borehole is strictly controlled by various methods that create or seal off holes in the side of the wellbore. Typically, hydraulic fracturing is performed in cased wellbores and the zones to be fractured are accessed by perforating the casing at those locations.[36]

Hydraulic fracturing equipment used in oil and natural gas fields usually consists of a slurry blender, one or more high-pressure, high-volume fracturing pumps (typically powerful triplex or quintuplex pumps) and a monitoring unit. Associated equipment includes fracturing tanks, one or more units for storage and handling of proppant, high-pressure treating iron, a chemical additive unit (used to accurately monitor chemical addition), low-pressure flexible hoses, and many gauges and meters for flow rate, fluid density, and treating pressure.[37] Fracturing equipment operates over a range of pressures and injection rates, and can reach up to 100 megapascals (15,000 psi) and 265 litres per second (9.4 cu ft/s) (100 barrels per minute).[38]

Well Types

A distinction can be made between conventional or low-volume hydraulic fracturing used to stimulate high-permeability reservoirs to frac a single well, and unconventional or high-volume hydraulic fracturing, used in the completion of tight gas and shale gas wells as unconventional wells are deeper and require higher pressures than conventional vertical wells.[39] In addition to hydraulic fracturing of vertical wells, it is also performed in horizontal wells. When done in already highly permeable reservoirs such as sandstone-based wells, the technique is known as "well stimulation".[26]

Horizontal drilling involves wellbores where the terminal drillhole is completed as a "lateral" that extends parallel with the rock layer containing the substance to be extracted. For example, laterals extend 1,500 to 5,000 feet (460 to 1,500 m) in the Barnett Shale basin in Texas, and up to 10,000 feet (3,000 m) in the Bakken formation in North Dakota. In contrast, a vertical well only accesses the thickness of the rock layer, typically 50–300 feet (15–91 m). Horizontal drilling also reduces surface disruptions as fewer wells are required to access a given volume of reservoir rock. Drilling usually induces damage to the pore space at the wellbore wall, reducing the permeability at and near the wellbore. This reduces flow into the borehole from the surrounding rock formation, and partially seals off the borehole from the surrounding rock. Hydraulic fracturing can be used to restore permeability.[40]

Fracturing Fluids

High-pressure fracture fluid is injected into the wellbore, with the pressure above the fracture gradient of the rock. The two main purposes of fracturing fluid is to extend fractures and to carry proppant into the formation, the purpose of which is to stay there without damaging the formation or production of the well. Two methods of transporting the proppant in the fluid are used – high-rate and high-viscosity. High-viscosity fracturing tends to cause large dominant fractures, while with high-rate (slickwater) fracturing causes small spread-out micro-fractures.

This fracture fluid contains water-soluble gelling agents (such as guar gum) which increase viscosity and efficiently deliver the proppant into the formation.[41]

The fluid injected into the rock is typically a slurry of water, proppants, and chemical additives.[42] Additionally, gels, foams, and compressed gases, including nitrogen, carbon dioxide and air can be injected. Typically, of the fracturing fluid 90% is water and 9.5% is sand with the chemicals accounting to about 0.5%.[34][43][44]

A proppant is a material that will keep an induced hydraulic fracture open, during or following a fracturing treatment, and can be gel, foam, or slickwater-based. Fluids make tradeoffs in such material properties as viscosity, where more viscous fluids can carry more concentrated proppant; the energy or pressure demands to maintain a certain flux pump rate (flow velocity) that will conduct the proppant appropriately; pH, various rheological factors, among others. Types of proppant include silica sand, resin-coated sand, and man-made ceramics. These vary depending on the type of permeability or grain strength needed. The most commonly used proppant is silica sand, though proppants of uniform size and shape, such as a ceramic proppant, is believed to be more effective. Due to a higher porosity within the fracture, a greater amount of oil and natural gas is liberated.[45]

The fracturing fluid varies in composition depending on the type of fracturing used, the conditions of the specific well being fractured, and the water characteristics. A typical fracture treatment uses between 3 and 12 additive chemicals.[34] Although there may be unconventional fracturing fluids, the typical used chemical additives are:

  • Acids—hydrochloric acid (usually 28%-5%), or acetic acid is used in the pre-fracturing stage for cleaning the perforations and initiating fissure in the near-wellbore rock.[44]
  • Sodium chloride (salt)—delays breakdown of the gel polymer chains.[44]
  • Polyacrylamide and other friction reducers—minimizes the friction between fluid and pipe, thus allowing the pumps to pump at a higher rate without having greater pressure on the surface.[44] Polyacrylamide are good suspension agents ensuring the proppant does not fall out.
  • Ethylene glycol—prevents formation of the scale deposits in the pipe.[44]
  • Borate salts—used for maintaining fluid viscosity during the temperature increase.[44]
  • Sodium and potassium carbonates—used for maintaining effectiveness of crosslinkers.[44]
  • Glutaraldehyde—used as disinfectant of the water (bacteria elimination).[44]
  • Guar gum and other water-soluble gelling agents—increases viscosity of the fracturing fluid to deliver more efficiently the proppant into the formation.[44][41]
  • Citric acid—used for corrosion prevention.
  • Isopropanol—increases the viscosity of the fracture fluid.[44]

The most common chemical used for hydraulic fracturing in the United States in 2005–2009 was methanol, while some other most widely used chemicals were isopropyl alcohol, 2-butoxyethanol, and ethylene glycol.[46]

Typical Fluid Types Are:

  • Conventional linear gels. These gels are cellulose derivatives (carboxymethyl cellulose, hydroxyethyl cellulose, carboxymethyl hydroxyethyl cellulose, hydroxypropyl cellulose, methyl hydroxyl ethyl cellulose), guar or its derivatives (hydroxypropyl guar, carboxymethyl hydroxypropyl guar) based, with other chemicals providing the necessary chemistry for the desired results.
  • Borate-crosslinked fluids. These are guar-based fluids cross-linked with boron ions (from aqueous borax/boric acid solution). These gels have higher viscosity at pH 9 onwards and are used to carry proppants. After the fracturing job the pH is reduced to 3–4 so that the cross-links are broken and the gel is less viscous and can be pumped out.
  • Organometallic-crosslinked fluids zirconium, chromium, antimony, titanium salts are known to crosslink the guar based gels. The crosslinking mechanism is not reversible. So once the proppant is pumped down along with the cross-linked gel, the fracturing part is done. The gels are broken down with appropriate breakers.[41]
  • Aluminium phosphate-ester oil gels. Aluminium phosphate and ester oils are slurried to form cross-linked gel. These are one of the first known gelling systems.

For slickwater it is common to include sweeps or a reduction in the proppant concentration temporarily to ensure the well is not overwhelmed with proppant causing a screen-off.[47] As the fracturing process proceeds, viscosity reducing agents such as oxidizers and enzyme breakers are sometimes then added to the fracturing fluid to deactivate the gelling agents and encourage flowback.[41] The oxidizer reacts with the gel to break it down, reducing the fluid's viscosity and ensuring that no proppant is pulled from the formation. An enzyme acts as a catalyst for the breaking down of the gel. Sometimes pH modifiers are used to break down the crosslink at the end of a hydraulic fracturing job, since many require a pH buffer system to stay viscous.[47] At the end of the job the well is commonly flushed with water (sometimes blended with a friction reducing chemical) under pressure. Injected fluid is to some degree recovered and is managed by several methods, such as underground injection control, treatment and discharge, recycling, or temporary storage in pits or containers while new technology is being continually being developed and improved to better handle waste water and improve re-usability.[34]

Fracture Monitoring

Measurements of the pressure and rate during the growth of a hydraulic fracture, as well as knowing the properties of the fluid and proppant being injected into the well provides the most common and simplest method of monitoring a hydraulic fracture treatment. This data, along with knowledge of the underground geology can be used to model information such as length, width and conductivity of a propped fracture.[34]

Injection of radioactive tracers, along with the other substances in hydraulic-fracturing fluid, is sometimes used to determine the injection profile and location of fractures created by hydraulic fracturing.[48] The radiotracer is chosen to have the readily detectable radiation, appropriate chemical properties, and a half life and toxicity level that will minimize initial and residual contamination.[49] Radioactive isotopes chemically bonded to glass (sand) and/or resin beads may also be injected to track fractures.[50] For example, plastic pellets coated with 10 GBq of Ag-110mm may be added to the proppant or sand may be labelled with Ir-192 so that the proppant's progress can be monitored.[49] Radiotracers such as Tc-99m and I-131 are also used to measure flow rates.[49] The Nuclear Regulatory Commission publishes guidelines which list a wide range of radioactive materials in solid, liquid and gaseous forms that may be used as tracers and limit the amount that may be used per injection and per well of each radionuclide.[50]

For more advanced applications, microseismic monitoring is sometimes used to estimate the size and orientation of hydraulically induced fractures. Microseismic activity is measured by placing an array of geophones in a nearby wellbore. By mapping the location of any small seismic events associated with the growing hydraulic fracture, the approximate geometry of the fracture is inferred. Tiltmeter arrays, deployed on the surface or down a well, provide another technology for monitoring the strains produced by hydraulic fracturing.[51]

Horizontal Completions

Since the early 2000s, advances in drilling and completion technology have made drilling horizontal wellbores much more economical. Horizontal wellbores allow for far greater exposure to a formation than a conventional vertical wellbore. This is particularly useful in shale formations which do not have sufficient permeability to produce economically with a vertical well. Such wells when drilled onshore are now usually hydraulically fractured in a number of stages, especially in North America. The type of wellbore completion used will affect how many times the formation is fractured, and at what locations along the horizontal section of the wellbore.[52]

In North America, shale reservoirs such as the Bakken, Barnett, Montney, Haynesville, Marcellus, and most recently the Eagle Ford, Niobrara and Utica shales are drilled, completed and fractured using this method. The method by which the fractures are placed along the wellbore is most commonly achieved by one of two methods, known as "plug and perf" and "sliding sleeve".[53]

The wellbore for a plug and perf job is generally composed of standard joints of steel casing, either cemented or uncemented, which is set in place at the conclusion of the drilling process. Once the drilling rig has been removed, a wireline truck is used to perforate near the end of the well, following which a fracturing job is pumped (commonly called a stage). Once the stage is finished, the wireline truck will set a plug in the well to temporarily seal off that section, and then perforate the next section of the wellbore. Another stage is then pumped, and the process is repeated as necessary along the entire length of the horizontal part of the wellbore.[54]

The wellbore for the sliding sleeve technique is different in that the sliding sleeves are included at set spacings in the steel casing at the time it is set in place. The sliding sleeves are usually all closed at this time. When the well is ready to be fractured, using one of several activation techniques, the bottom sliding sleeve is opened and the first stage gets pumped. Once finished, the next sleeve is opened which concurrently isolates the first stage, and the process repeats. For the sliding sleeve method, wireline is usually not required.

These completion techniques may allow for more than 30 stages to be pumped into the horizontal section of a single well if required, which is far more than would typically be pumped into a vertical well.[55]


Hydraulic fracturing has been seen as one of the key methods of extracting unconventional oil and gas resources. According to the International Energy Agency, the remaining technically recoverable resources of shale gas are estimated to amount to 208 trillion cubic metres (7.3 quadrillion cubic feet), tight gas to 76 trillion cubic metres (2.7 quadrillion cubic feet), and coalbed methane to 47 trillion cubic metres (1.7 quadrillion cubic feet). As a rule, formations of these resources have lower permeability than conventional gas formations. Therefore, depending on the geological characteristics of the formation, specific technologies (such as hydraulic fracturing) are required. Although there are also other methods to extract these resources, such as conventional drilling or horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing is one of the key methods making their extraction technically viable. The multi-stage fracturing technique has facilitated shale gas and light tight oil production development in the United States and is believed to do so in the other countries with unconventional hydrocarbon resources. Significance of the extraction of unconventional hydrocarbons lies also in the fact that these resources are less concentrated than conventional oil and gas resources.[4]

Environmental Impact

Hydraulic fracturing has raised environmental concerns and is challenging the adequacy of existing regulatory regimes.[56] These concerns have included ground water contamination, risks to air quality, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, mishandling of waste, and the health effects of all these, as well as its contribution to raised atmospheric CO2 levels by enabling the extraction of previously-sequestered hydrocarbons.[5][34][46] Because hydraulic fracturing originated in the United States,[57] its history is more extensive there than in other regions. Most environmental impact studies have therefore taken place there.

Research Issues

Several organizations, researchers, and media outlets have reported difficulty in conducting and reporting the results of studies on hydraulic fracturing due to industry[58][59][60] and governmental pressure, and expressed concern over possible censoring of environmental reports.[58][61][62] Researchers have recommended requiring disclosure of all hydraulic fracturing fluids, testing animals raised near fracturing sites, and closer monitoring of environmental samples.[63] After court cases concerning contamination from hydraulic fracturing are settled, the documents are sealed. The American Petroleum Institute deny that this practice has hidden problems with gas drilling, while others believe it has and could lead to unnecessary risks to public safety and health.[64]

Air Emissions

The air emissions from hydraulic fracturing are related to methane leaks originating from wells, and emissions from the diesel or natural gas powered equipment such as compressors, drilling rigs, pumps etc.[34] Also transportation of necessary water volume for hydraulic fracturing, if done by trucks, can cause high volumes of air emissions, especially particulate matter emissions.[65]

Shale gas produced by hydraulic fracturing causes higher well-to-burner emissions than conventional gas. This is mainly due to the gas released during completing wells as some gas returns to the surface, together with the fracturing fluids. Depending on their treatment, the well-to-burner emissions are 3.5%–12% higher than for conventional gas.[56] According to a study conducted by professor Robert W. Howarth et al. of Cornell University, "3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the lifetime of a well." The study claims that this represents a 30–100% increase over conventional gas production.[66] Methane gradually breaks down in the atmosphere, forming carbon dioxide, which contributes to greenhouse gasses more than coal or oil for timescales of less than fifty years.[66][67] Howarth's colleagues at Cornell and others have criticized the study's design,[68][69] however several other studies have also found higher emissions from shale-gas production than from conventional gas production.[70][71][72][73] Howarth et al. have responded, "The latest EPA estimate for methane emissions from shale gas falls within the range of our estimates but not those of Cathles et al, which are substantially lower."[74]

In some areas, elevated air levels of harmful substances have coincided with elevated reports of health problems among the local populations. In DISH, Texas, elevated substance levels were detected and traced to hydraulic fracturing compressor stations,[75] and people living near shale gas drilling sites complained of health problems;[76] though a causal relationship to hydraulic fracturing was not established.[76]


The large volumes of water required have raised concerns about hydraulic fracturing in arid areas, such as Karoo in South Africa.[57] During periods of low stream flow it may affect water supplies for municipalities and industries such as power generation, as well as recreation and aquatic life. It may also require water overland piping from distant sources.[77]

Hydraulic fracturing uses between 1.2 and 3.5 million US gallons (4.5 and 13 Ml) of water per well, with large projects using up to 5 million US gallons (19 Ml). Additional water is used when wells are refractured; this may be done several times.[41][78] An average well requires 3 to 8 million US gallons (11,000 to 30,000 m3) of water over its lifetime.[34][77][78][79] Using the case of the Marcellus Shale as an example, as of 2008 hydraulic fracturing accounted for 650 million US gallons per year (2,500,000 m3/a) or less than 0.8% of annual water use in the area overlying the Marcellus Shale.[77][80] The annual number of well permits, however, increased by a factor of five[81] and the number of well starts increased by a factor of over 17 from 2008 to 2011.[82] According to the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, greater volumes of fracturing fluids are required in Europe, where the shale depths average 1.5 times greater than in the U.S.[83] To minimize water consumption, recycling is one possible option.[56]

Injected Fluid

There are concerns about possible contamination by hydraulic fracturing fluid both as it is injected under high pressure into the ground and as it returns to the surface.[84] To mitigate the impact of hydraulic fracturing to groundwater the well and ideally the shale formation itself should remain hydraulically isolated from other geological formations, especially freshwater aquifers.[56] In the United States hydraulic fracturing areas at least 36 cases of groundwater contamination due to hydraulic fracturing have been suspected and in several cases EPA has determined that hydraulic fracturing was likely the source of the contamination.[64][85][86][87][88][89]

While some of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are common and generally harmless, some are known carcinogens or toxic.[46] The 2011 US House of Representatives investigative report on the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing states that out of 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products, "more than 650 of these products contained chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or listed as hazardous air pollutants".[46] The report also shows that between 2005 and 2009, 279 products had at least one component listed as "proprietary" or "trade secret" on their Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) required material safety data sheet (MSDS). The MSDS is a list of chemical components in the products of chemical manufacturers, and according to OSHA, a manufacturer may withhold information designated as "proprietary" from this sheet. When asked to reveal the proprietary components, most companies participating in the investigation were unable to do so, leading the committee to surmise these "companies are injecting fluids containing unknown chemicals about which they may have limited understanding of the potential risks posed to human health and the environment".[46] Without knowing the identity of the proprietary components, regulators cannot test for their presence. This prevents government regulators from establishing baseline levels of the substances prior to hydraulic fracturing and documenting changes in these levels, thereby making it more difficult to prove that hydraulic fracturing is contaminating the environment with these substances.[90]

Another 2011 study identified 632 chemicals used in natural gas operations. Only 353 of these are well-described in the scientific literature. The study indicated possible long-term health effects that might not appear immediately. The study recommended full disclosure of all products used, along with extensive air and water monitoring near natural gas operations; it also recommended that hydraulic fracturing's exemption from regulation under the United States Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) be rescinded.[91]


As the fracturing fluid flows back through the well, it consists of spent fluids and may contain dissolved constituents such as minerals and brine waters. It may account for about 30–70% of the original fracture fluid volume. In addition, natural formation waters may flow to the well and need treatment. These fluids, commonly known as flowback, produced water, or wastewater, are managed by underground injection, wastewater treatment and discharge, or recycling to fracture future wells.[92] Treatment of produced waters may be feasible through either self-contained systems at well sites or fields or through municipal waste water treatment plants or commercial treatment facilities.[92] However, the quantity of waste water needing treatment and the improper configuration of sewage plants have become an issue in some regions of the United States. Much of the wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations is processed by public sewage treatment plants, which are not equipped to remove radioactive material and are not required to test for it.[93] More problematic may be the high levels of Bromide released into the rivers. The Bromide in the water combines with chlorine, which is used to disinfect drinking water at water treatment plants, and forms trihalomethanes (THMs).[94]


Groundwater methane contamination is also a concern as it has adverse impact on water quality and in extreme cases may lead to potential explosion.[95][96] In 2006, over 7 million cubic feet (200,000 m3) of methane were released from a blown gas well in Clark, Wyoming and shallow groundwater was found to be contaminated.[97] However, methane contamination is not always caused by hydraulic fracturing. Drilling for ordinary drinking water wells can also cause methane release. Some studies make use of tests that can distinguish between the deep thermogenic methane released during gas/oil drilling, and the shallower biogenic methane that can be released during water-well drilling. While both forms of methane result from decomposition, thermogenic methane results from geothermal assistance deeper underground.[98][99]

According to the 2011 study of the MIT Energy Initiative, "there is evidence of natural gas (methane) migration into freshwater zones in some areas, most likely as a result of substandard well completion practices i.e. poor quality cementing job or bad casing, by a few operators."[100] 2011 studies by the Colorado School of Public Health and Duke University also pointed to methane contamination stemming from hydraulic fracturing or its surrounding process.[95][99] A study by Cabot Oil and Gas examined the Duke study using a larger sample size, found that methane concentrations were related to topography, with the highest readings found in low-lying areas, rather than related to distance from gas production areas. Using a more precise isotopic analysis, they showed that the methane found in the water wells came from both the Marcellus Shale (Middle Devonian) where hydraulic fracturing occurred, and from the shallower Upper Devonian formations.[98]

Radioactivity: Radionuclides associated with hydraulic fracturing

The New York Times has reported radium in wastewater from natural gas wells,[101] which releases into Pennsylvania rivers,[96] compiled a map of these wells and their wastewater contamination levels,[101] and stated that some EPA reports were never made public. They did not measure beta or gamma radiation. The Times' reporting on the issue has come under some criticism.[102][103] Recycling the wastewater has been proposed as a solution but has its limitations.[104]


Hydraulic fracturing causes induced seismicity called microseismic events or microearthquakes. The magnitude of these events is usually too small to be detected at the surface, although the biggest micro-earthquakes may have the magnitude of about -1.6 (Mw). The injection of waste water from gas operations, including from hydraulic fracturing, into saltwater disposal wells may cause bigger low-magnitude tremors, being registered up to 3.3 (Mw).[105]

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has reported earthquakes induced by human measures, including hydraulic fracturing and hydraulic fracturing waste disposal wells, in several locations. According to the USGS only a small fraction of roughly 40,000 waste fluid disposal wells for oil and gas operations have induced earthquakes that are large enough to be of concern to the public.[106] Although the magnitudes of these quakes has been small, the USGS says that there is no guarantee that larger quakes will not occur.[107] In addition, the frequency of the quakes has been increasing. In 2009, there were 50 earthquakes greater than magnitude-3.0 in the area spanning Alabama and Montana, and there were 87 quakes in 2010. In 2011 there were 134 earthquakes in the same area, a sixfold increase over 20th century levels.[108] There are also concerns that quakes may damage underground gas, oil, and water lines and wells that were not designed to withstand earthquakes.[109][107]

A British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission investigation concluded that a series of 38 earthquakes (magnitudes ranging from 2.2 to 3.8 on the Richter scale) occurring in the Horn River Basin area between 2009 and 2011 were caused by fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing in proximity to pre-existing faults.[110] A report in the UK also concluded that hydraulic fracturing was the likely cause of some small tremors that occurred during shale gas drilling.[111][112][113]

Several earthquakes occurring throughout 2011, including a 4.0 magnitude quake on New Year's Eve that hit Youngstown, Ohio, are likely linked to a disposal of hydraulic fracturing wastewater, according to seismologists at Columbia University.[114] A similar series of small earthquakes occurred in 2012 in Texas. Earthquakes are not common occurrences in either area. Disposal and injection wells are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act and UIC laws.[115]

Health Impact

Concern has been expressed over the possible long and short term health effects of air and water contamination by gas production [116][117] One fairly extensive American study on the effect of hydraulic fracturing concluded that exposure to gas drilling operations was strongly implicated in serious health effects on humans and animals.[118] As of May 2012, the U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) and United States National Research Council were preparing to review the potential human and environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing.[119][120]

In the United States the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have released a hazard alert based on data collected by NIOSH that workers may be exposed to dust with high levels of silica, crystalline (respirable size), also known as crystalline silicon dioxide or quartz dust, during hydraulic fracturing.[121] NIOSH notified company representatives of these findings and provided reports with recommendations to control exposure to crystalline silica and recommend that all hydraulic fracturing sites evaluate their operations to determine the potential for worker exposure to crystalline silica and implement controls as necessary to protect workers.[122]

Public Debate: Politics and public policy

To control the hydraulic fracturing industry, some governments are developing legislation and some municipalities are developing local zoning limitations.[123] In 2011, France became the first nation to ban hydraulic fracturing.[6][7] Some other countries have placed a temporary moratorium on the practice. The US has the longest history with hydraulic fracturing, so its approaches to hydraulic fracturing may be modeled by other countries.[57]

The considerable opposition against hydraulic fracturing activities in local townships has led companies to adopt a variety of public relations measures to assuage fears about hydraulic fracturing, including the admitted use of "mil­i­tary tac­tics to counter drilling oppo­nents". At a conference where public relations measures were discussed, a senior executive at Anadarko Petroleum was recorded on tape saying, "Download the US Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, because we are dealing with an insurgency", while referring to hydraulic fracturing opponents. Matt Pitzarella, spokesman for Range Resources also told other conference attendees that Range employed psychological warfare operations veterans. According to Pitzarella, the experience learned in the Middle East has been valuable to Range Resources in Pennsylvania, when dealing with emotionally charged township meetings and advising townships on zoning and local ordinances dealing with hydraulic fracturing.[124][125]

Media Coverage

Josh Fox's 2010 film Gasland became a center of opposition to hydraulic fracturing of shale. The movie presented problems with ground water contamination near well sites in Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and Colorado.[126] Energy in Depth, an oil and gas industry lobbying group, called the film's facts into question.[127] In response, a rebuttal of Energy in Depth's claims of inaccuracy was posted on Gasland's website.[128] The Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) offered to be interviewed as part of the film if he could review what was included from the interview in the final film but Fox declined the offer. The COGCC took issue with what it called "several errors" in the film after its production.[129] The Independent Petroleum Association of America later produced its own documentary, Truthland.[130] Exxon Mobil, Chevron Corporation and ConocoPhillips also aired advertisements during 2011 and 2012 that describe the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas and argue hydraulic fracturing is safe.[130] The film Promised Land, starring Matt Damon, takes on hydraulic fracturing.[131] The gas industry has made plans to counter the film's criticisms of hydraulic fracturing with informational flyers, and Twitter and Facebook posts.[130]

One New York Times report claimed that an early draft of a 2004 EPA study discussed "possible evidence" of aquifer contamination but the final report omitted that mention.[58] Some have criticized the narrowing of EPA studies, including the EPA study on hydraulic fracturing's impact on drinking water to be released in late 2014,[132] such that hydrocarbon extraction processes not unique to hydraulic fracturing, such as drilling, casing, and above ground impacts, are considered beyond scope.[133][59][61][134][135]

External Links

Anadarko Operations | Rocky Mountain region. Denver-Julesburg (CO) Basin.
Do you live in one of the 32 sates that has been fracked? - EcoWatch.
Confidential Report Shows EPA Folded Under Pressure from Oil and Gas Industry - EcoWatch.
Measuring Fugitive Methane Emissions from Fracking - EcoWatch.
Dangers of Fracking (interactive website) As you scroll down the page you will see the entire fracking operation from start to finish. There are boxes containing information every so often along the way.
Clean Technica | Fracking Infographic.
Facts on fracking, Pros and Cons of Hydraulic Fracturing for Natural Gas (Infographic).
Fracking: Energy Independence At What Cost? (Infographic) (hold cursor over the orange dots to learn more about each area).
STEM: Fracking Infographics | Save the Water.
Frack-Free Colorado Highlights Natural Gas Fracking Facts (Infographic).
Greenpeace UK | Fracking in the UK (update 2).
Interactive Infographic: Drilling Less than 1,000 Feet from Homes.
Infographic: Shale Gas and Fracking.
Infographic: Fracking violations in Pennsylvania.
Infographic: Fracking Imports and Exports in Europe — Natural Gas Reserves, Production, and Consumption by Country.
Hydraulic Fracturing.
Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) – Graphic of the Day | The Knowledge Effect.
Natural gas: Five areas of concern - Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

The following information is from the FracFocus - Chemical Disclosure Registry []
What Chemicals Are Used [] - FracFocus, GWPC & IOGCC.
Hydraulic Fracturing: The Process [] - FracFocus, GWPC & IOGCC.
Find A Well (Map Search by State) [] - FracFocus, GWPC & IOGCC. 

Worth Watching #88: DON’T WORRY, DRIVE ON: Fossil Fools & Fracking Lies. 

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