Understanding Hydraulic Fracturing

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Public controversy over hydraulic fracturing in recent years has centered on exploration and production activities. Even though the use of hydraulic fracturing started in the mid 1900s, the recent increase in its usage has made it a common and frequently debated subject.

Hydraulic fracturing, also referred to as fracking, has most recently been used to retrieve natural gas and crude oil from shale formations deep beneath the earth’s surface. During the process, a mixture of water, sand and other compounds is injected into the shale formation at high pressures. The high pressure creates fractures in the rock formation and tiny sand particles prop open the fractures to allow the trapped oil and gas to flow through and to the surface.

The process has been scrutinized by some stakeholders for primarily two reasons. One revolves around what some consider an excessive amount of water use, and the other relates to the compounds that are injected into the earth. These issues are being addressed in different ways; through new technology, greater disclosure of information and increased regulatory oversight.

While the ultimate answer to the question of how much regulation is needed remains unclear, it does appear that science-based arguments are increasingly being acknowledged. Many states have required producers who implement the use of hydraulic fracturing to disclose the compounds that make up the fluid they inject. This is accomplished through FracFocus, a website and database that tracks companies’ activities, and specifically the chemicals they deploy. Interested parties can look up a particular well and learn what components were included in the fracturing fluid that was used. Chemicals that are proprietary are protected from disclosure. However, several states require disclosure of even those components under certain circumstances such as when emergency response workers or medical professionals need the information. The goal of the registry is to promote greater transparency of the process and a fuller disclosure of the chemical makeup of the fluids that are employed.

For more information on hydraulic fracturing, visit www.fracfocus.org. FracFocus is managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, two independent organizations whose missions revolve around conservation and environmental protection.