How does hydraulic fracturing work?
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a safe and well-regulated technology that has been used for more than 60 years in more than one million wells. In the United States, an estimated 35,000 wells are drilled using fracking each year. Fracking has safely produced more than seven billion barrels of oil and 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and studies estimate that up to 80 percent of natural gas wells drilled in the next decade will require hydraulic fracturing technology.
Fracking uses water pressure under tight controls to create fractures in rock that allow oil and natural gas to escape and flow up out of the ground. During this process, "fracturing fluids" or "pumping fluids" are injected under high pressure into the producing formation, creating fissures that allow resources to move freely from rock pores where they are trapped. While 99.5 percent of the fluids used consist of water and sand, some chemicals are added to improve the flow. The chemicals vary from well to well, but are a mix of common industrial and household materials that millions of American consumers use every day. By both weight and volume, the most prominent of these materials is a substance known as “guar,” an emulsifying agent more typically found in ice cream.
Hydraulic fracturing wells go far below underground aquifers, reaching approximately 6,000 feet under the earth’s surface. That’s almost the distance of four Empire State buildings stacked on top of each other. Additionally, the industry has set standards for 10-inch, vault-thick steel and concrete casing, or shielding, for the explicit purpose of protecting groundwater. The primary method used for protecting groundwater during drilling operations consists of drilling the wellbore through the groundwater aquifers, immediately installing the steel pipe or casing, and cementing this steel pipe into place. Additional protection is offered by the impermeable rock formations that lie between the oil and natural gas formations and the groundwater—formations that have isolated the groundwater over millions of years.