Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)

Updated on April 30, 2019
Liz Hardin profile image

Liz earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Veterinary Medical Technology from Lincoln Memorial University In Harrogate, TN.

What is fracking?

Fracking is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, a type of drilling and mining that has been used commercially for over 65 years. The combination of advanced hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling is mostly responsible for surging oil and natural gas production in the US. Fracking involves tapping into shale and other tight-rock formations by drilling a mile or more below the surface. A single surface site can accommodate a number of wells. There are over 1.1 million active oil and gas wells in the US across 35 states.

Once the well is drilled, cased and cemented, small perforations are made in the horizontal portion of the well pipe, through which a typical mixture of 90% water, 9.5% of sand, and 0.5% of other additives is pumped at high pressure to create micro-fractures in the rock that are held open by the grains of sand. The additives help to reduce friction, thereby reducing the amount of pumping pressure from diesel-powered sources to reduce air emissions, and prevent pipe corrosion, which in turn helps protect the environment and boost well efficiency. Once the shale is shattered, naturals gas then flows along the cracks into wells, and is then brought to the surface.

Drilling rig in Southwest Pennsylvania.
Drilling rig in Southwest Pennsylvania. | Source

There are over 1.1 million active oil and gas wells in the U.S. across 35 states.

Geology

Fracking wells are typically built on shale deposits that contain significant reserves of natural gas. Shale is a cap rock, making it virtually impermeable to oil and natural gas. Shale halts upward-moving oil and gas, and keeps them from escaping at the surface.

Fracking wells are typically built on shale deposits that contain significant reserves of natural gas.

Problems With Fracking

Fracturing fluid is mostly water, but it contains chemicals that may be toxic, such as guar gum, ethylene glycol, petroleum, borate salts, and citric acid, just to name a few. Fracking fluids are regulated by state laws, but some are more strict than others. There are significant concerns about fracking fluids leaking into aquifers that are used for public drinking supply. Potential water shortages and damages to forests and wildlife are also a concern. Once fracturing is completed, fracking fluids are brought back to the surface and injected into deep disposal wells. In some locations, these injections appear to trigger numerous minor earthquakes, resulting in infrastructure damages particularly in states such as Texas, Oklahoma, and Ohio.

So why don't we stop fracking, then? Gas and oil companies make so much money off of their products, so why would they stop, right? Additionally, so many US industries still very dependent upon oil and gas products and industries.

Illustration of hydraulic fracturing.
Illustration of hydraulic fracturing. | Source

There are significant concerns about fracking fluids leaking into aquifers that are used for public drinking supply.

Solutions and Alternatives

Solutions to fracking include utilizing renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reducing oil and gas use on large scales. Reduced oil and gas use equals a lesser need for fracking, which in turn decreases the amount of fracking wastewater produced. Alternatives to fracking are renewable energy sources such as solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy, bio fuels, and hydroelectric nuclear energy. The only problems with these alternatives is that they are costly. We can all help at home by utilizing energy efficiency by using better home insulation, biodigesters, wood burners, and more fuel-efficient cars.

Anti-fracking sign.
Anti-fracking sign. | Source

The Takeaway

Due to the potential contamination of aquifers by wastewater, potential water shortages, and damages from seismic activity due to underground fracking wastewater injection, fracking remains a topic of controversy. More research into the environmental effects of fracking is needed. Additionally, more research into alternative energy sources and methods, and how to make them more cost effective, is also needed. Uses of alternative energy sources need to be implemented into everyday society in order to reduce the need for oil and natural gas ad make a lasting difference. This is not only to avoid environmental damages now, but to avoid potential future shortages of oil and natural gas. In the meantime, fracking waste waters need to be strictly maintained and monitored.

Sources

  • Tarbuck, E., Lutgens, F. (2014). Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology. 11th ed. Boston. Pearson. Pg. 786.
  • Course notes from Geology college course.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Liz Hardin

Comments

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    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 months ago

      Liz . . .you are welcome. I truly enjoyed your writing. You have such a talent for the written word. Keep up the fine work.

    • Liz Hardin profile imageAUTHOR

      Liz Hardin 

      4 months ago from Tennessee

      Thanks, Kenneth!

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Nice work, Liz. Thank you for publishing a very important topic. I happen to know that there are some frackers several miles from my hometown. Again, thanks.

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