Fracking has led to substantial increases in U.S. domestic oil and gas production, thereby significantly reducing the need for oil imports. U.S. net imports of oil, after a 30-year steady rise, have begun to fall in the past decade, and the fall coincides with a major increase in domestic oil production, which is due in large part to expansion of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. Fracking involves using horizontal drilling to access shale deposits previously unavailable through conventional drilling methods. 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, these oil and gas 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. As a result, total U.S. crude oil production increased by more than 50% in less than a decade. Over the same time period, the amount of total U.S. oil consumption provided by imports fell from roughly 60% down to 45%. While that still leaves the U.S. heavily 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, has led to such a sudden surge in employment and population in the area that construction companies are unable to build housing fast enough to keep up with the population growth. The natural gas industry that once voiced concerns over eventually exhausting the domestic supply of natural gas has such a massive excess of supply, 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.

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. Fracking has been attacked by environmentalists on a number of fronts. 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.

Environmental concerns have been largely brushed aside in favor of concentrating on the spectacular boost in oil and gas production enabled by fracking, a boost that has the U.S. poised to pass Saudi Arabia as the number one oil producer in the world.

  1. What are the effects of fracking on the environment?

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  2. What country is the world's largest natural gas producer?

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  3. Why did oil prices drop so much in 2014?

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  4. What are average operating expenses for the oil and gas sector?

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