Hydraulic Fracturing

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Hydraulic Fracturing, also know as “fracing” is a proven technology that has been used for more than 60 years to safely enhance the production of natural gas and oil from more than one million wells in the United States.  For years, oil and gas deposits in certain rock formations, including many shale formations, were thought to be uneconomical to produce.  Advances in drilling and completion technologies including fracking now allow operators to develop many previously uneconomic resources.  New drilling technologies now allow operators to drill thousands of feet below freshwater supplies and then turn horizontally into rock formations where hydraulic fracturing releases vast oil and natural gas deposits that were once considered unreachable.  While hydraulic fracturing has been used for decades, the process has been continually refined to be even more effective.

Hydraulic fracturing occurs at great depths – generally a mile or more underground, thousands of feet below freshwater supplies.  With the safety system of steel casing and cement in place, operators drill vertically thousands of feet down then drill horizontally into the targeted rock formation.  After drilling, a mixture of pressurized water, sand, and a specifically formulated fracturing compound is pumped thousands of feet down into the formation to create tiny, millimeter-thick fissures in carefully targeted sections of host rock.  These tiny fractures free the trapped oil and natural gas.  Oil and natural gas operators in New Mexico typically use a fracturing compound (or fracking fluid) that is 99.5% water and sand and 0.5% chemically based additives.  The sand helps to prop open the tiny fractures to facilitate the flow of oil or gas.  For more information on fracking fluid, see Energy in Depth’s “A Fluid Situation.”

Is hydraulic fracturing safe?

Yes.   In 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded, “the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into coal-bed methane wells pose little or no threat to (underground drinking water).” The agency, in a review of incidents of drinking water well contamination, found “no confirmed cases linked to fracturing fluid injection of CBM (coalbed methane) wells or subsequent underground movement of fracturing fluid.” See EPA’s Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing.

A 2004 report by the Ground Water Protection Council, an association of state regulators, and the Environmental Protection Agency have demonstrated the effectiveness of current state regulations in protecting ground water resources. See Ground Water Protection Council, “State Oil and Gas Regulations Designed to Protect Water Resources,” May 27, 2009.

How Well Construction Protects Freshwater Supplies

Courtesy of API - Click to Enlarge

Under state regulation, comprehensive rules are in place to ensure that wells are constructed in a manner that protects freshwater supplies.

Each well is encased in multiple layers of steel which are surrounded by cement to create a redundant safeguard between fracking fluids and water supplies during well drilling and completion, and later during well production.  In addition, there are thousands of feet of rock between the freshwater zone and the zone where fracking occurs.

What are the Production Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing plays a very important role in energy production nationally and in New Mexico. A 2009 IHS Global Insight Report prepared for the the American Petroleum Institute entitled “Measuring the Economic and Energy Impacts of Proposals to Regulate Hydraulic Fracturing” concluded that if Congress were to place additional federal regulations on top of the state and local regulations that govern the oil and gas industry practice of hydraulic fracturing, the number of new U.S. wells drilled would plummet 20.5 percent over a five-year period. The study also concluded that elimination of the use of hydraulic fracturing would be catastrophic to the development of American natural gas and oil, with a 79 percent drop in well completions, resulting in a 45 percent reduction in natural gas production and a 17 percent reduction in oil production by 2014.

The Horizontal Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing Process

Video Courtesy of Chesapeake Energy