Fracking has led to substantial increases in U.S. domestic oil and gas production, thereby significantly reducing the need for the United States to import oil. In fact, U.S. net imports of oil, after a 30-year steady rise, are declining. The fall coincides with a major increase in domestic oil production, which is due in large part to the expansion of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Development of Fracking Technology

Fracking uses horizontal drilling to access shale deposits previously unavailable through conventional drilling methods. After drilling into the earth, a high-pressure water mixture—called fracking fluid—is applied to the rock to release the gas and petroleum inside.

Key Takeaways

  • Fracking involves drilling horizontally to access shale with deposits that were previously unavailable.
  • U.S. oil and gas production has seen a substantial increase thanks to fracking.
  • While oil production surged from 2010 to 2020, oil imports decline sharply.
  • Still, the U.S. remains somewhat dependent on foreign oil.
  • While creating jobs and helping the economy in other ways, fracking is not without its critics because there have been negative environmental impacts—such as water contamination and water shortages—associated with the process.

The use of the fracking technique has enabled energy companies to obtain very large quantities of oil and natural gas. Prior to the development of fracking technology, deposits found in shale were considered essentially useless because the cost to extract them was prohibitively expensive. Fracking changed that equation and led to a new boom in oil and gas production in the U.S.

Total U.S. crude oil production roughly tripled in the decade spanning from 2010 to 2020. Over the same time period, the amount of total U.S. oil consumption provided by imports fell substantially. While the U.S. remains dependent on foreign oil, it is nonetheless a very significant reduction in the level of dependence since it means the country is capable of providing over half of its fuel needs.

The fracking-created oil boom has also had beneficial effects on the economy as a whole, playing a significant part in the reduction of gasoline and natural gas prices and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs. One large shale area, the Bakken formation in North Dakota, saw a surge in employment and population in the area—construction companies were unable to build housing fast enough to keep up with the population growth.

Meanwhile, the natural gas industry that once voiced concerns over eventually exhausting the domestic supply of natural gas has such a massive excess of supply that it is rapidly expanding its business to include exporting natural gas to Europe and Asia. Shipping terminals built to facilitate the receiving of liquefied natural gas imports are being reworked to support exports.

Fracking and Its Detractors

For all its benefits in the area of energy independence, lowered fuel prices, and job creation, fracking is not without its detractors. The technique, which uses sideways drilling into shale formations aided by the use of gigantic water cannons to fracture surrounding rock to free the oil and gas deposits, has been and remains very controversial.

Environmentalists have attacked fracking on a number of fronts, and the long-term impact of weakening underground rock formations through the fracturing technique is widely questioned. Additionally, the massive amount of water used in the fracking process has led to water shortages in some drilling areas. Potential groundwater contamination is another concern.