What is fracking?
Hydraulic fracturing is a specific technique used by drilling companies to extract oil and gas from geological formations deep beneath the earth’s surface. The method involves breaking, or fracturing, the rocks (e.g. shale, sandstone etc.) that contain hydrocarbons, in order to release the oil and gas.
Read our full article on the basics of hydraulic fracturing here.
Where is fracking happening?
There are currently hydraulic fracturing wells in North America, Europe and South Africa.
Why is it controversial? What are the dangers?
There have been concerns that the process can cause earthquakes and water pollution. Critics worry fracking could lead to pollution of drinking water by methane gas or chemicals in the liquid used in the process. Shale gas exploration could also lead to the damaging development of drilling well sites in the countryside.
However, of the hundreds of thousands of fracked wells that have been drilled over past few decades, only a tiny number have impacted the local environment. A recent study that monitored 200 water wells in Pennsylvania showed that all the wells except one showed the same quality before and shortly after fracking.
Compared to the qualitative attacks that critics of fracking tend to use to criticize the practice, actual data shows fracking to be extremely safe. To learn more, click here to read an informative article written by an oilfield engineer.
Read more here.
Can fracking cause earthquakes?
There are several reports of earthquakes in areas with fracking wells, which understandably raised concerns among the population. “These earthquakes are induced by the fluid injection due to increased pore pressure along the preexisting faults located close to the well bore,” concludes an article in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
However, it’s not the case that fracking fluid will always cause earthquakes.
Can fracking ignite water coming out of taps?
“Fracking ignites water coming out of taps”: the movie Gasland made these claims famous. However, what the director of Gasland never mentioned is the fact the area in which the water appeared to be flammable was plagued with gas in the water already in 1976, which is confirmed by a study by the Colorado Division of Water. And it was naturally occurring.
As the report stated there was “troublesome amounts of methane” in the water decades before fracking began. It seems that in geographical areas gas has always been in the water.
The director of Gasland conveniently hid this truth from the public, despite being aware of it.
So, the fact is that water is flammable, but the gas occurs naturally.
What are the benefits?
Hydraulic Fracturing makes it possible to produce oil and natural gas in places where conventional technologies are ineffective. Fracking has unlocked massive new supplies of oil and clean-burning natural gas from dense deposits of shale — supplies that increase our country’s energy security and improve our ability to generate electricity, heat homes and power vehicles for generations to come. Hydraulic fracturing has also boosted local economies—generating royalty payments to property owners, providing tax revenues to the government and creating much-needed high-paying American jobs. Engineering and surveying, construction, hospitality, equipment manufacturing and environmental permitting are just some of the professions experiencing the positive ripple effects of increased oil and natural gas shale development.
Read our blog post about the benefits of hydraulic fracturing here and check out our infographics showcasing the Economics of Fracking here.
How much water does fracking use? Is the water recycled?
The process of fracking consumes about 50 billion gallons of water a year.
Roughly estimated, 10-40% of the water is recycled. In Pennsylvania where fracking is extremely popular, 85% of the water is recycled and last year one of the major fracking developments was advancements in water recycling.
See our infographic about the use of water in fracking here.
What are the technical aspects of fracking?
The typical process involves drilling an extremely deep well to a target formation a mile or two beneath the surface. If a horizontal well is being drilled, the well would then turn 90 degreees so that it runs horizontally to the surface for a few thousand feet, remaining in the target formation. The well is then lined with impermeable concrete, and explosives are dropped down the well in order to make perforations in the well at the depth of the target formation. Then, millions, of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressure into the well, causing fissures and cracks to form in the source rock where the well was perforated. The sand keeps the cracks open so that oil and gas can flow from the rock and up the well for recovery.
Can fracking pollute groundwater?
Despite loud and stubborn proclamations to the contrary, there are no studies that link the physical process of fracking to groundwater contamination.
Methane and other natural gasses occur in higher concentrations in hydrocarbon basins. Where there is one oil and gas formation, there are often others (sometimes at very shallow depths). The basic reason for this is that there are one or more “source rocks” (rocks that contain high concentrations of organic material that has become hydrocarbon) in the basin, that transfer hydrocarbons to “reservoir rocks” (sandstones or shales that have better porosity to store oil). The fact that there is methane or other natural gasses and associated compounds says nothing about fracking.
The reality is that these gasses just naturally occur in water tables in areas with hydrocarbons being close to or in some cases even at or above the water table. The idea with fracking is – if you have an impermeable rock above your fractures, it is physically impossible to get any gas or fluid above that rock. However, if hydrocarbons occur naturally below the water table, with no impermeable rock above them, they will seep into the groundwater- naturally.
Does fracking have an impact on carbon emissions?
Fracking has allowed the US to drastically cut carbon emissions since it allows the use of clean-burning natural gas as an energy source as opposed to coal.
Power plants that use natural gas and a new technology to squeeze more energy from the fuel release far less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than coal-fired power plants do, according to a new analysis accepted for publication in Earth’s Future, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. The paper was first posted online Jan. 8. The so-called “combined cycle” natural gas power plants also release significantly less nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, which can worsen air quality.
“Since more and more of our electricity is coming from these cleaner power plants, emissions from the power sector are lower by 20, 30, even 40 percent for some gases, since 1997,” said lead author Joost de Gouw, an atmospheric scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder.
What do the politicians think?
There is an intense political debate going on about the pros and cons of fracking. Many politicians believe in the alarmism of anti-fracking groups, but there are also many politicians who support fracking and are in favor of the economic benefits of hydraulic fracturing. Obama, the greenest president in US history, has supported the process of building more fracking wells to secure our future energy independence.