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What is FRACKING? Here is a simple explanation of a process that has the potential to destroy the drinking water of the North American continent.
- "Fracking" is hydraulic fracturing, a form of natural gas extraction in which a pressurized mix of water, sand and chemicals is injected into shale rock formations or coal beds to release trapped natural gas.
 - A fluid mixture of water and chemicals is injected under high pressure deep underground, creating or widening fissures in the rock.
 - Then, sand or other solids, often ceramic beads, are pumped in to keep the fissures propped open so that methane gas can escape from pores and fractures in the rock.

"Fracking" is a combination of a number of extraction technologies, some which have been around for 60 years and some much newer.  Vertical drilling and vertical fracturing have been in use since the 1940's, horizontal drilling technology was developed in the 1990's and the current technique known as fracking combines those technologies with the use of a chemical cocktail (whose exact constituents the industry is exempt from disclosing - thanks Dick Cheney) which is called by the industry, "High Volume Slickwater Hydraulic Fracturing."

Despite gas industry claims that "fracking" technology is 60 years old, what we know now as fracking (hydraulic horizontal fracturing) has been in use on a large scale for less than 10 years.

"Fracking and drilling are not the same thing," said University of Houston engineering professor Michael Economides, who consults for drillers on fracturing. "We drill wells. Then we frack."
Environmentalists and other industry critics consider this distinction to be nothing more than word games concocted by oil and gas lobbyists. Whatever you call it, they say, gas production is fouling air and water.

The frack starts in the horizontal bore hole.
A typical drill site with the bore hole exaggerated

This is a diagram of fracking of the shale to release the gas, the fractures are actually paper thin
For an interactive diagram, see this article in the National Geographic. (Energy section sponsored by Shell)

The diagrams show the ideal situation. The concrete liners of the bore hole going through the aquifer may have cracks and spaces in them to allow contaminants out. Those "paper thin" fractures are not that neat in real life. Also in real life natural gas doesn't just get in line and march up the pipe, there is a lot of "fugitive" gas that decides that it would like to follow the fractures in the rock away from the pipe and into the rock, water, soil layers above and some even makes it to the surface. The fact is, those fractures are not necessarily contained within the shale area and no one knows how far and wide they go.

Fracking: the numbers

Four million gallons of fluid (water/sand/chemicals) are injected into the bore hole under 10,000 lbs of pressure to a depth of 8,000 feet. The gas comes up with the fluid.

What kind of chemicals? Fracturing companies have the Halliburton Loophole to protect them from being forced to disclose what chemicals were used in the process. The fracking industry is exempted from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act in the USA.
From the Canadian Scientist Jessica Ernst link below:

By examining drillers' patent applications and government worker health and safety records, some environmentalists and regulators in the US have been able to piece together a list of some of the fracking fluid ingredients.  These include potentially toxic substances such as diesel fuel (which contains benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, and napththalene), 2-butoxyethanol, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, methanol, formaldehyde, ethylene, glycol, glycol ethers, hydrocholoric acid, and sodium hydroxide.
Estimates for the usage of fresh water required per well range between 2.4 million to 7.8 million gallons(see pg 92). The gas industry claims that 99.5% of the fracking fluid by weight is water and sand, which means that there are 20 tons of chemicals per million gallons meaning that in the average well, between 48 and 156 tons of chemicals are pumped in and return over time in the frack water pumped out with the gas. (Given that the density of water is higher than the density of some of the chemical additives, the volume of the chemicals might be more impressive, which is why one might assume that the industry emphasizes the relative weight of the chemicals.)

Not only are the chemicals that are sent down into the well (which come back up with the gas for the life of the well's production) a problem, there are toxic substances which were locked in the layers of strata that the well is bored into which become freed by the fracturing process.  Black shales are known to contain numerous heavy metals, among them are strontium, barium, uranium, and radium; chemicals in the drilling muds and fracking fluids can cause leaching of radioactive materials from the source rocks into the fracking fluid.  Radon gas (highly radioactive and extremely carcinogenic) can be mobilized by fracking as well.

One must wonder whether our water supply, which is already stressed can stand up to the strain of the removal of billions of gallons of water, much of which will be heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive substances that cannot be treated in public wastewater treatment plants or released back into the environment.

What fracking looks like

"A natural gas well is bigger than a two-car garage." says the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). Do not believe them.

The well-pads can be enormous such as the one at the Horn River Basin in British Columbia, Canada. Then consider the number of wells, The Petroleum Services Association of Canada boasts that last year 12,850 wells were drilled across Canada.

Here's a video from Skytruth that shows what fracking looks like, not exactly like a two-car garage:

The Environmental Impact

Drinking Water:
 - Drilling through the aquifer, your drinking water with all the problems that implies. The casing of steel strengthened by cement around the bore hole can be weakened   by the sand in the blasting fluid. Any cracks and holes in the casing will allow leaks of the chemicals into the water table. There is a lot of evidence that this has been happening. It was always immediately denied by the drilling companies. Then there is the improper disposal of the waste that comes back up with the gas that contaminates ground water.
- millions of gallons of waste water/sand/chemicals brought to the surface only 30%-50% recoverable.
Louis Meeks, a farmer on a small alfalfa ranch outside the town of Pavillion, Wyoming had sweet clear water from his well for 35 years until the town became surrounded by 200 fracking wells. He got denials from the company and little help fom environmental officials. February 2012, 6 years after the contamination of the wells the EPA issued its report:
"The EPA found high levels of toxic contaminants in a monitoring well just yards from Locker's own water well.

The EPA says chemicals in the monitoring wells are consistent with fracking fluids. But the study has yet to undergo peer review, and the drilling company strongly refutes the EPA's conclusions and methodology.

For many residents, though, the EPA tests confirm their worst fears, and vindicate years of requests for a government investigation."

Pro Publica has produced a Kindle Single on Louis Meeks' struggle against the drilling industry near Pavillion, Wyoming. Free download  Hydrofracked? One Man's Mystery Leads to a Backlash Against Natural Gas Drilling

Upate on Pavillion, Wyoming
Pavillion collaboration resumes despite fractures  h/t MGross

The use of natural resources:
 - millions of gallons of water coming from? in some cases reservoirs or pristine lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
 - tons of sand, where is that coming from, miles of land stripped for the sand underneath.

When you think about fracking, think about water.

The waste and waste disposal:
 - tons of contaminated rock flushed up from the bore hole, some companies claim it is buried on the site.
- tons of the recoverable waste water (30-50% is recovered, the rest stays in the well site) is injected back into the ground near the well-sites. This massive injection has been proven to trigger many small earthquakes.

Fracking causes earthquakes, studies confirm
Both studies confirm that processes linked to the extraction of oil and gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, can trigger manmade earthquakes. [...]
According to the USGS study, the earthquakes are linked to the disposal of wastewater produced during fracking, not the fracking process itself, as previously reported.
Near Injection Wells, Many Quakes Go Unfelt
A series of small earthquakes made Halloween of 2008 an unusually scary one for people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. While it has long been theorized that underground injections of fluids from oil and gas development operations could decrease friction and cause faults to slip, the quakes occurred in an area where people weren’t accustomed to tremors, renewing calls for research into the geological consequences of the booming natural gas industry in Texas.
Think about that, calling for research after the damage is noted. That's how the industry operates, without much cost benefit analysis on the environmental level. That analysis comes afterwards from outside the industry. Industrial environmental assessment is based on "how much can we get away with."

Reading about the fracking-related earthquakes makes one wonder how the Oil and Gas industry ever got away with this and for so long. Wasn't any of this procedure tested? and if so, were the findings put aside in order to reach the natural gas? It doesn't take a geologist to figure out that when the frackers inject more than 150,000 barrels of waste water per month into the earth that is going to have a seismic effect on the surroundings.

Greenhouse Gases/Climate Change:

Scientific American, Fracking Would Emit Large Quantities of Greenhouse Gases
Robert Howarth, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist, and Anthony Ingraffea, a civil and environmental engineer, reported that fracked wells leak 40 to 60 percent more methane than conventional natural gas wells. When water with its chemical load is forced down a well to break the shale, it flows back up and is stored in large ponds or tanks. But volumes of methane also flow back up the well at the same time and are released into the atmosphere before they can be captured for use. This giant belch of "fugitive methane" can be seen in infrared videos taken at well sites.
Air sampling reveals high emissions from gas field
Methane leaks during production may offset climate benefits of natural gas.
When US government scientists began sampling the air from a tower north of Denver, Colorado, they expected urban smog — but not strong whiffs of what looked like natural gas. They eventually linked the mysterious pollution to a nearby natural-gas field, and their investigation has now produced the first hard evidence that the cleanest-burning fossil fuel might not be much better than coal when it comes to climate change.
IEAs Golden Age for Gas may scupper golden opportunity for the climate
Keith Allott head of Climate Change at WWF-UK said “A golden
age for gas is clearly very far from a golden age for the planet. Buried in the depths of this report is the bombshell that a global dash for unconventional gas will condemn us to warming of at least 3.5°C.
“Those who claim that shale gas is some sort of wonder fuel that can that
tackle climate change are seriously misleading the public – the reality is that it is a dangerous distraction from energy efficiency and clean renewable
Land Use:
4 - 6 acres for each pad which are built near homes, farms, in wilderness areas, everywhere shale gas and oil is discovered. That means all over the North American continent. Pipes are left in the ground so gas can be captured for years.

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, director of the climate and energy program at Western Environmental Law Center describes it [the fracking boom] as "a landscape-scale industrial process." Think of it, he said, "as a gigantic factory, spread across thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of acres, just without a roof."

The Politics

Where does the White House stand on fracking?
Interior floated draft rules in May that require industry disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process. The draft rules also address well integrity and management of so-called flowback water.

The Obama administration plans to complete the rules by the end of the year despite a recent decision to bow to industry wishes and allow more time for public comment on the proposal.

The draft plan requires drillers to disclose chemicals used when employing hydraulic fracturing. [... but] does not require disclosure ahead of the fracking process, which environmentalists call a major gap in the proposal.

Environmentalists think the proposed Federal rules don't go far enough and that industry should be required to disclose the chemicals involved ahead of time. This would give the nearby communities an opportunity to test the water supplies. Industry claims that the rules will be an impediment to production. The question that comes to mind is why doesn't the industry want to disclose the chemicals used? what are they afraid of? The claim in Canada is that it falls under "trade secrets." The new Federal rules in the US will not take effect until the end of this year.

Interior Secretary Salazar, June 26, 2012
“Shale gas has provided the United States the opportunity to have 100 years of supply that is domestically produced. If we are going to develop natural gas from shale, it has to be done in a safe and responsible manner,” Salazar told Reuters.

EPA's study of hydraulic fracturing and its potential impact on drinking water resources: EPA is undertaking a national study to understand the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. The study will include a review of published literature, analysis of existing data, scenario evaluation and modeling, laboratory studies, and case studies. EPA expects to release a progress report in 2012 and final draft report for peer review and comment in 2014.

Canada's Federal Government on fracking
“Responding to questions from NDP environment critic Megan Leslie (about fracking), environment minister Peter Kent noted that regulations for the sector were mainly a provincial and territorial responsibility, but acknowledged that there could be an emerging federal role.” Kent said, “The federal government has an interest and can involve itself when a threat is perceived and reported. Environment Canada is responsible for regulating toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and where required, we will intervene.”

(The briefing notes) warn the process of releasing natural gas from shale — called ‘fracking’ — could draw heavily on freshwater resources and significantly increase Canada’s overall carbon-dioxide emissions. The documents also say projects in areas without infrastructure may require the construction of roads, drill pads and pipelines, which could create ‘extensive habitat fragmentation’ for wildlife.”

A University of Toronto report has stated, “To date, Canada has not developed adequate regulations or public policy to address the scale or cumulative impact of hydraulic fracking on water resources.


Like almost everything associated with fracking, analysis of the economics of it are highly contentious and controversial.  There are big questions about the size of the reserves of gas available, with the gas industry making what many consider overhyped claims about the amount of gas that can be recovered at a profit:
The gas may not be as easy and cheap to extract from shale formations deep underground as the companies are saying, according to hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents and an analysis of data from thousands of wells.

In the e-mails, energy executives, industry lawyers, state geologists and market analysts voice skepticism about lofty forecasts and question whether companies are intentionally, and even illegally, overstating the productivity of their wells and the size of their reserves. Many of these e-mails also suggest a view that is in stark contrast to more bullish public comments made by the industry, in much the same way that insiders have raised doubts about previous financial bubbles.

When President Obama made his State of the Union address, he said:
This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy - a strategy that's cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.

We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.

It turns out that a 100 year supply is a pretty optimistic estimate of the available reserves:

In January, the Energy Department cut its estimate of the amount of gas available in the Marcellus Shale by nearly 70 percent, and a group affiliated with the Colorado School of Mines warns that there may be only 23 years' worth of economically recoverable gas left nationwide.
Since no shale well has gone through a complete life cycle yet there are only estimates of the performance of these wells, and as you might expect the estimates vary widely.  

The gas industry term for the economic performance of a well is, UER, or Ultimate Economic Recovery and these numbers put out by the industry (in the absence of complete data on well lifecycle and output) are based upon models.  The data that the industry has is on the initial production of the wells, which is often quite impressive, but production tapers off over time.  How rapidly production tapers off varies significantly from well to well and is the key to the differences in UER estimates:

Company data for more than 10,000 wells in three major shale gas formations raise further questions about the industry’s prospects. There is undoubtedly a vast amount of gas in the formations. Questions remain as to how much gas can be extracted at an efficient cost.

The data show that while there are some very active wells, they are often surrounded by vast zones of less-productive wells that in some cases cost more to drill and operate than the gas they produce is worth. Also, the amount of gas produced by many of the successful wells is falling much faster than initially predicted by energy companies, making it more difficult for them to turn a profit over the long run.

One thing that is also making it difficult to profitably extract gas is that all of the fracking activity has produced a glut in the supply of natural gas, driving down prices:
So much natural gas is being produced that soon there may be nowhere left to put the country's swelling surplus. After years of explosive growth, natural gas producers are retrenching. ...

Since October, the number of drilling rigs exploring for natural gas has fallen by 30 percent to 658, according to the energy services company Baker Hughes. Some of the sharpest drop-offs have been in the Haynesville Shale in Northwestern Louisiana and East Texas and the Fayetteville Shale in Central Arkansas. But natural gas production is still growing, the result of a five-year drilling boom that has peppered the country with wells.

This retrenchment may wind up being the cause of large losses for some energy companies, Chesapeake Energy among them, who have signed lots of land deals which require them to drill within 3 to 5 years or forfeit the rights that they paid for.  

Given the enormous costs and high levels of borrowing that the gas industry has engaged in based on particularly rosy predictions, it appears possible that the dramatic drop in price for natural gas may cause a bust in the industry and leave behind a financial crisis of some scale and enormous environmental damage to boot.  

If you are a connoisseur of fine scandals, stay tuned to this issue, it has the all the ingredients to make a huge kerfuffle, that will probably make the Enron scandal look like a warm-up.  If there's a bust, you'll see recriminations galore as investors go after companies for (possibly illegally) hyping the prospects of production, aggrieved citizens are now even more deeply impoverished communities going after (possibly corrupt) public officials who colluded with energy companies,  regions whose water and air have been fouled irretrievably by toxic and sometimes radioactive wastes, and embarrassed state and federal officials and regulators who failed to do their jobs and failed to see through the hype.

Follow the money
Fracking Research and the Money That Flows To It

Fracking 101: The Cozy Relationship Between the Natural-Gas Industry and Academic Researchers

New Investigation Finds Decades of Government Funding Behind Shale Revolution

The People Fight Back in the Courts

A map of lawsuits across the USA.
Landmark fracking lawsuit starts with twist in Alberta
Jessica Ernst, a 54-year-old oil patch consultant and scientist from Rosebud, Alberta, is suing EnCana, one of the continent's largest unconventional gas producers, for negligence causing water contamination and the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), the province's energy regulator, for breaching the Charter of Rights.

The lawsuit alleges that the regulator "banished" Ernst, now a celebrated landowner in the province, from contact with the board after she publically spoke out about water well contamination and noise pollution.

In addition, the $33-million lawsuit alleges that Alberta Environment, one of two agencies responsible for groundwater protection, failed to uphold its regulatory responsibilities.

Local actions to ban fracking across the United States

"What the Frack" a Colorado Commission

New York Judge Rules Town Can Ban Gas Hydrofracking

Vermont Bans Fracking

Stay Informed

Exploring data, sharing perspectives, and mapping impacts of the gas industry.

Forbes map of global shale gas basins


March 17, 2012
Marcellus Shale Exposed: Tony Ingraffea

Part One
53 Minutes
 "Unconventional Gas Development from Shale: Myths and Realities Related to Human Health Impacts". Keynote address by Anthony Ingraffea at Marcellus Shale Exposed, held March 17, 2012 at Northampton Community College, Bethlehem, PA. In his presentation, Dr. Ingraffea decimates four myths central to the shale gas industry: (1) Fracing is a 60-year old, well-proven technology; (2) Fluid Migration from faulty wells is a rare phenomenon; (3) The use of multi-well pads and cluster drilling reduces surface impacts; and (4) Natural Gas is a clean fossil fuel.

Part Two
18 Minutes

22 Minutes
Part Three

Meet Jessica Ernst

Daily Kos diaries
1. POISON FRACKING PONDS in Utah: 8 Pictures Speak Volumes, by War on Error
Fracking Art I, Near White River, Utah

2. Hiram residents attempt to ask questions about fracking, by danps

3. Hiram residents seek local control on fracking by danps

4. Getting Fracked in PA by freeman

5. Fracking, It's all about flipping land. by Agathena

(if there are anymore Fracking diaries that did not come up on my search, please message me and I will insert them here.)

For Further Study

Cornell Study: Natural gas from shale contributes to global warming

Pro Publica has been on this story since 2008!
Their latest:

What you need to know about Hydro Fracking

New Study Predicts Frack Fluids Can Migrate to Aquifers Within Years

UPDATE, August 15, 2012
Drill Baby Drill - The Fracking Bubble is Bursting
In Canada:
BC Shale Gas Boom

Canadian companies fined under $1000, for exceeding the limit on water drawn from pristine rivers and lakes

Fracking - Natural Gas Affects Water Quality

Shale gas boom making us sick, say B.C. residents

Fracking for oil in northern BC not worth serious health and environmental risks

Fracking Flare in PA

Originally posted to DFH writers group on Thu Aug 09, 2012 at 06:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks, Canadian Kossacks, DK GreenRoots, and Community Spotlight.

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