Hydraulic Fracturing

What is Hydraulic Fracturing?

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a safe, tested technology used to enhance the flow of energy from a well once the drilling has been completed and the rig and derrick are removed from the scene. It is a process that takes, on average, about three to five days to complete from start to finish. Once the fracturing operation is finished, the well is considered “completed” and is now ready to safely produce American oil and natural gas for years, even decades, to come.

The term “fracking” has only recently entered the public’s vocabulary. However, the history of hydraulic fracturing technology’s safe use in America extends all the way back to the Truman administration, with more than 1.2 million wells completed using the process since 1947. With the advancements in new technology, fracturing and horizontal drilling offers enormous opportunities nationwide for the safe, responsible development of America’s abundant resources from shale.

Fracturing is a uniquely American success story that has provided immense benefits around the nation. By safely unlocking America’s abundant natural resources, fracturing has created millions of American jobs, reduced energy prices, brought cleaner air by significantly reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 25-year-lows, strengthened our national security, and turned the United States into a global energy superpower.

Learn more about hydraulic fracturing and find answers to common questions by clicking here. And find out what IPAA is working on regarding hydraulic fracturing below:

BLM Hydraulic Fracturing Rule

On March 20, 2015, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its final rule regulating hydraulic fracturing activities on federal lands. As written, this precedent-setting rule will be difficult and costly to comply with for industry and will likely discourage investment and job creation in the West. BLM has never made a compelling case that this rule is necessary or identified a state that has insufficient regulations in place to properly regulate hydraulic fracturing activities on federal lands in their states. In fact, states have successfully regulated more than 1.2 million hydraulic fracturing operations spanning nearly 70 years and many have recently strengthened their regulations as production has increased and technology has improved.

IPAA, along with Western Energy Alliance and the states of Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Utah, and the Ute Indian Tribe challenged the rule in the federal district court of Wyoming, characterizing the federal government’s rulemaking as duplicative of states’ efforts and unsubstantiated. The rule is unnecessary and would add another layer of burden to independent producers already struggling to navigate the complex and confusing regulatory program governing federal lands. At a time when the U.S. oil and natural gas industry is facing incredible cost uncertainties, these new federal mandates make it more difficult for independent producers to invest, to produce, and to help keep this American energy renaissance moving forward.

U.S. District Court Judge Skavdahl heard IPAA’s motion for a Preliminary Injunction and, on June 23, 2015, agreed that a temporary stay would be put in place until the Administrative Record was closed and all documents could be reviewed. On September 30, 2015, Judge Skavdahl granted IPAA’s motion for the preliminary injunction, stating, “Congress has not authorized or delegated to the BLM authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing and, under our constitutional structure, it is only through Congressional action that the BLM can acquire this authority.”

On June 21, 2016, shortly after the Preliminary Injunction appeal case was fully briefed, Judge Skavdahl struck down the BLM final rule. The Judge agreed with IPAA that BLM does not have the congressional authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. Read the Judge’s full ruling here. This decision makes the appeal for Preliminary Injunction as null since the case on merits is decided. This is a big and hard-fought win for independent producers.

As expected, the federal government and environmental parties involved in the lawsuit filed an appeal with the Tenth U.S. Court of Appeals. All parties submitted opening briefs and the appellate case was scheduled to be heard March 2017. Shortly before the hearing, the Tenth Circuit Court issued an order requesting confirmation from the Department of Justice on whether the arguments presented in the appeal of the case remain consistent with the new administration’s current position. The federal government responded that the administration’s priorities had shifted and it released an Executive Order instructing the Department of the Interior to suspend, revise, or rescind a number of energy regulations that became final in the previous administration, including the finalized rule governing hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. A Circuit Court in September 2017 dismissed an appeals case, protecting producers from the business uncertainty of having to potentially comply with a regulation that is certain to be revoked by the new administration. The Associations’ court case on the final rule remains ongoing.

Scientific Studies

More than 25 scientific, peer-reviewed studies conclude hydraulic fracturing does not pose a major risk of groundwater pollution. The following is a list of major scientific studies and expert assessments that confirm fracking is not an major threat to drinking water.

  • The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) (2017): Fracking Has Not Contaminated Groundwater in Texas.
  • “Direct migration of contaminants from targeted injection zones is highly unlikely to lead to contamination of potential drinking water aquifers.” (p. 128)
  • “In a study of 211 ground water contamination incidents in Texas associated with oil and gas activity (Kell, 2011) only 10 incidents were associated with well drilling and completion and none were associated with stimulation (hydraulic fracturing).” (p. 123)
  • United States Geological Survey (USGS) (2017): Unconventional oil and gas production not affecting drinking water quality.
  • “UOG [unconventional oil and gas] operations did not contribute substantial amounts of methane or benzene to the sample drinking-water wells.” (p. 6)
  • Duke University, funded by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) (2017): Groundwater not affected by fracking in West Virginia.
  • “Based on consistent evidence from comprehensive testing, we found no indication of groundwater contamination over the three-year course of our study.” (From press release)
  • University of Cincinnati (2016): Water quality not impacted by fracking or natural gas drilling in Ohio.
  • “All the samples fell within the clean water range and they did not find any changes over time either in any of our homes during the time series of fracking. We never saw a significant increase in methane concentration after (the) fracking well was drilled. There was no significant change in methane concentration over time, even as more and more natural gas wells were drilled in the area.” (Video presentation on study by lead researcher Dr. Amy Townsend Small).
  • “We found no positive relationship between CH4 concentration in groundwater and proximity to active gas well sites, and we found no significant change in CH4 concentration, isotopic composition of CH4, pH, or conductivity in water wells during the study period.” (Study abstract)
  • University of Texas-Austin (2016): Groundwater not affected by fracking in Parker County, Texas.
  • “All elements of the study point to natural methane contamination in the Parker-Hood cluster.” (p. vii)
  • “Overall the source of the dissolved methane is likely natural sourced from shallow natural gas accumulations in the Barnett Shale, lignite beds associated with a fault in the Haynesville shale, and lignite and degradation of oil and deep organic matter associated with a fractured zone in the Eagle Ford Shale. The Delaware Basin samples show no dissolved methane other than associated to a recent blowout.” (p. iii)
  • Syracuse University (2016): No evidence of fracking harming groundwater in Appalachian Basin.
  • “Without a proper understanding of preexisting methane occurrence in groundwater, investigations may incorrectly conclude that unconventional hydrocarbon development and production has altered shallow groundwater quality when it has not (i.e. a false positive).” (p. 2)
  • Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (2016): Groundwater not affected by fracking in Pavillion, Wyo.
  • “Evidence does not indicate that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallow depths intersected by water-supply wells. Also, based on an evaluation of hydraulic fracturing history, and methods used in the Pavillion Gas Field, it is unlikely that hydraulic fracturing has caused any impacts to the water-supply wells.” (Study fact sheet)
  • Susquehanna River Basin Commission (2016): Fracking has not polluted water supplies in the Susquehanna River Basin.
  • “To date, the Commission’s monitoring programs have not detected discernible impacts on the quality of the Basin’s water resources as a result of natural gas development, but continued vigilance is warranted.” (p. 8)
  • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Yale University (2015): Fracking has not contaminated drinking water in the Marcellus Shale.
  • “There was no evidence of association with deeper brines or long-range migration of these compounds to the shallow aquifers. Encouragingly, drinking water sources affected by disclosed surface spills could be targeted for treatment and monitoring to protect public health.” (p. 5)
  • “We have found no evidence for direct communication with shallow drinking water wells due to upward migration from shale horizons. This result is encouraging, because it implies there is some degree of temporal and spatial separation between injected fluids and drinking water supply.” (p. 5)
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2015): No evidence of widespread water contamination from fracking.
  • “[H]ydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systematic impacts to drinking water resources.”
  • U.S. District Court, Wyoming (2015): Experts have confirmed no water contamination from fracking.
  • “[E]xperts and government regulators have repeatedly acknowledged a lack of evidence linking the hydraulic fracturing process to groundwater contamination.” (p. 26)
  • Syracuse University (2015): No evidence of fracking contaminating groundwater in heavily drilled areas of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio.
  • “We see no broad changes in variability of chemical quality in this large dataset to suggest any unusual salinization caused by possible release of produced waters from oil and gas operations, even after thousands of gas wells have been drilled among tens of thousands of domestic wells within the two areas studied.” (Executive Summary)
  • California Council on Science & Technology (2015): Fracking has not caused groundwater contamination in California.
  • “We found no documented instances of hydraulic fracturing or acid stimulations directly causing groundwater contamination in California.” (p. 52)
  • “The study found no releases of hazardous hydraulic fracturing chemicals to surface waters in California and no direct impacts to fish or wildlife.” (p. 35)
  • Stanford University (2015): No evidence of fracking fluids leaking up into drinking water aquifers.
  • “Using innovative techniques such as isotopic ‘tracer’ compounds that distinguish the source of chemicals in well water, Jackson has not found evidence that frack water contaminants seep upward to drinking-water aquifers from deep underground.” (From press release)
  • U.S. Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory (2014): No evidence of gas or brine migration from hydraulic fracturing in Marcellus Shale.
  • “Current findings are: 1) no evidence of gas migration from the Marcellus Shale; and 2) no evidence of brine migration from the Marcellus Shale.” (p. 2)
  • “Conclusions of this study are: 1) the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the rock mass did not extend to the Upper Devonian/Lower Mississippian gas field; and 2) there has been no detectable migration of gas or aqueous fluids to the Upper Devonian/Lower Mississippian gas field during the monitored period after hydraulic fracturing.” (p. 2)
  • U.S. Geological Survey (2014): No water contamination from fracking in West Virginia.
  • “The comparison of groundwater data from this study with historical data found no significant difference for any of the constituents examined and therefore warrant no further discussion.” (p. 47)
  • Duke University, U.S. Geological Survey (2013): Fracking had no effect on groundwater wells in Arkansas.
  • “Although preproduction water-quality data were lacking for the wells sampled for this study, geochemical data presented a well-defined pattern of geochemical evolution based on natural rock-water and microbially mediated processes, strongly suggesting that the resulting water quality is derived from these natural processes with no effects from gas-production activities.” (p. 28)
  • Gradient (2013): There is “no scientific basis” for the claim that fracking fluids will contaminate water aquifers.
  • “Overall, there is no scientific basis for significant upward migration of HF fluid or brine from formations in sedimentary basins. Even if upward migration from a target formation to potable aquifer were hypothetically possible, the rate of migration would be extremely slow and the resulting dilution of the fluids would be very large…Given the overall implausibility and very high dilution factor, this exposure pathway does not pose a threat to drinking water resources.” (p. ES-4)
  • University of Michigan – Technology Report (2013): Water contamination from fracking has never “reliably” been shown to have occurred.
  • “The often-postulated percolation upward of fracking water used in deep, long lateral well extensions to contaminate drinking water aquifers near the surface through the intervening impermeable rock formations is highly unlikely and has never reliably been shown to have occurred.” (p. 13)
  • “[T]hese findings suggest that the methane concentrations in Susquehanna County water wells can be explained without the migration of Marcellus shale gas through fractures, an observation that has important implications for understanding the nature of risks associated with shale-gas extraction.” (Study abstract)
  • “Our evaluation of 1701 groundwater quality analyses shows that methane is common in Susquehanna county water wells and is best correlated with topography and groundwater geochemistry, rather than shale-gas extraction activities.” (p. 15)
  • Cardno Entrix (2012): Fracking has not caused groundwater contamination in Los Angeles.
  • “Routine tests by the water purveyor show the community’s water supply meets drinking water standards, including the period of high-rate gravel packs and conventional hydraulic fracturing, as well as the first high-volume hydraulic fracture in September 2011… Before-and-after monitoring of groundwater quality in monitor wells did not show impacts from high-volume hydraulic fracturing and high-rate gravel packing.” (p. 3)
  • U.S. Government Accountability Office (2012): The fracking process has not been identified as a cause of groundwater contamination.
  • “[R]egulatory officials we met with from eight states – Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas – told us that, based on state investigations, the hydraulic fracturing process has not been identified as a cause of groundwater contamination within their states.” (p. 49)
  • Ground Water Protection Council (2011): Texas and Ohio have never had a documented occurrence of fracking contaminating groundwater.
  • “Neither state [Ohio and Texas] has documented a single occurrence of groundwater pollution during the site preparation or well stimulation phase of operations.” (p. 3)
  • “In recent years, the national debate on natural gas E&P has been focused nearly exclusively on a single, brief, yet essential activity, hydraulic fracturing. Neither state has identified hydraulic fracturing as the cause of a single documented groundwater contamination incident.” (p. 102)
  • The Center for Rural Pennsylvania (2011): Gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale has not contaminated nearby water wells.
  • “In this study, statistical analyses of post-drilling versus pre-drilling water chemistry did not suggest major influences from gas well drilling or hydrofracturing (fracking) on nearby water wells, when considering changes in potential pollutants that are most prominent in drilling waste fluids.” (p. 4)
  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (2011): Groundwater contamination has not occurred as a result of hydraulic fracturing.
  • “A supporting study for this dSGEIS concludes that it is highly unlikely that groundwater contamination would occur by fluids escaping from the wellbore for hydraulic fracturing. The 2009 dSGEIS further observes that regulatory officials from 15 states recently testified that groundwater contamination as a result of the hydraulic fracturing process in the tight formation itself has not occurred.” (p. 11)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2010): Risk of water contamination is low due to distance between groundwater and where fracking occurs.
  • “The protection of freshwater aquifers from fracture fluids has been a primary objective of oil and gas field regulation for many years. As indicated in Table 2.2, there is substantial vertical separation between the freshwater aquifers and the fracture zones in the major shale plays. The shallow layers are protected from injected fluid by a number of layers of casing and cement — and as a practical matter fracturing operations cannot proceed if these layers of protection are not fully functional. Good oil-field practice and existing legislation should be sufficient to manage this risk.” (p. 15)

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IPAA is the industry’s strongest presence in the nation’s capital and these are important times. The entire oil and gas industry remains under fire from anti-development groups; but with these challenges arise unique opportunities that IPAA is seizing for our members.