Hydraulic Fracturing Q&As – American Petroleum Institute

What is hydraulic fracturing? Hydraulic fracturing is a proven technology that has been used since the 1940s in more than 1 million wells in the United States to help produce oil and natural gas. The technology involves pumping a water-sand mixture into underground rock layers where the oil or gas is trapped. The pressure of the water creates tiny fissures in the rock. The sand holds open the fissures, allowing the oil or gas to escape and flow up the well.

Is hydraulic fracturing widely used? Yes, and its use is likely to increase. A government-industry study found that up to 80 percent of natural gas wells drilled in the next decade will require hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing allows access to formations, like shale oil and shale gas, that had not been assessable before without the technology. It also allows more oil and natural gas to be brought to the surface from wells that had been produced without this technology.

Why is hydraulic fracturing important? It enables production of more oil and natural gas, reducing dependence on foreign sources of energy and creating more jobs for Americans. It’s an indispensable technology for producing much of our clean-burning natural gas, which heats more than 56 million American homes, generates one-fifth of our nation’s electricity, powers buses and fleet vehicles and creates the basic materials for such things as fertilizers and plastics of every variety. When burned for energy, natural gas emits fewer greenhouse gases than other fossil fuels.

Doesn’t hydraulic fracturing present a serious threat to the environment? No. The environmental track record is good, and the technology is used under close regulatory supervision by state, local and federal regulators. Hydraulic fracturing has been used in nearly one million wells in the United States and studies by the U.S. EPA and the Ground Water Protection Council have confirmed no direct link between hydraulic fracturing operations and groundwater impacts.

How are the fluids kept away from aquifers and drinking water wells? Wells are drilled away from drinking water wells. Also, fracturing usually occurs at depths well below where usable groundwater is likely to be found. Finally, when a well is drilled, steel casing and surrounding layers of concrete are installed to provide a safe barrier to protect usable water.

Who regulates hydraulic fracturing? There are multiple federal, state and local government rules addressing environmental protection during oil and gas operations, including the protection of water resources. These rules cover well permitting, well materials and construction, safe disposition of used hydraulic fracturing fluids, water testing, and chemical recordkeeping and reporting. In addition, API has created a guidance document on proper well construction and plans to release guidance documents outlining best-available practices for water use and management and protecting the environment during hydraulic fracturing operations.

Isn’t there a risk that hydraulic fracturing will use up an area’s water supplies? No. Local authorities control water use and can restrict it if necessary. In many areas, water is recycled and reused; in some cases companies pay for the water they use, which comes from a variety of sources. Water requirements for hydraulic fracturing are less than many other commercial and recreational uses. In Pennsylvania, for example, all the hydraulic fracturing activity taking place in 2009 used only 5 percent of the amount of water used for recreational purposes, like golf courses and ski slopes. State agencies manage water in a way that safeguards the water needs by nearby communities and protects the environment. Companies recycle and reuse much of the water.

Why should communities allow hydraulic fracturing? Besides the energy produced with little impact on the environment, communities benefit economically. Energy development creates jobs and generates millions of dollars in royalties, taxes and other revenues to federal, state, and local governments. It provides energy for U.S. industry, helps strengthen our economy locally and nationally, and helps contribute to higher disposable incomes.