What is 'Hydraulic Fracturing'

Hydraulic fracturing is a process which injects high-pressure liquid into an oil- or gas-bearing rock formation to create fractures. This pressure typically yields improved flows, making it useful for oil and gas firms seeking more economical production in areas that would otherwise produce low-flow wells.

BREAKING DOWN 'Hydraulic Fracturing'

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping fuel into a wellbore to create enough pressure to develop and expand cracks in hard rock formations. The fluid injected into the well contains a combination of water, chemicals and small particles of sand or ceramic materials. The water and chemicals crack and open the rock through high pressure, while the solid particles, called proppant, stay in place and keep the fractures open to stimulate a better flow of liquids or gases out of the well.

History and Use of Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing was first used in Kansas in 1947 in an attempt to extract natural gas from a limestone formation in the Hugoton gas field. Since that time, petroleum engineers have regularly used hydraulic fracturing as a means of increasing well production. While fractures sometimes exist naturally in formations, both natural and human-made fractures can widen by this process.

Hydraulic fracturing is one of several technologies which have made unconventional oil and gas plays more economically viable. Tight oil and gas reservoirs, including those embedded within shale formations such as the Bakken, Eagle Ford, Niobrara and Pierre formations in the United States, typically require a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to produce efficiently.

Environmental and Political Hydraulic Fracturing Controversy

Environmental concerns linked to hydraulic fracturing include air pollution from methane emissions, groundwater contamination, and potential risk of induced earthquakes. The disposal of wastewater from the drilling process plays a primary role in many disagreements about how to weigh the technology’s risks against its benefits.

After drilling companies inject fluids into the well, the back-pressure from the rock formation generally pushes the mix of water and chemicals back to the surface through the wellbore. At that point, the fluids can be recycled or collected for eventual disposal. Drilling companies take precautions to ensure their wells do not leak either fracturing fluids or petroleum liquids into local water tables. However, environmental groups have voiced concerns about contamination from inadequate holding tanks and spills. Some operations dispose of wastewater in deep wells, which has recently been correlated with increased risk of earthquakes in Oklahoma. Another problem linked to hydraulic fracturing is the leakage of methane gas from the fracking process. 

These concerns have made the hydraulic fracturing process subject to strict regulation in some areas, including outright bans in France and the states of Vermont and New York.

RELATED TERMS
  1. Non-Hydraulic Fracturing

    Non-Hydraulic Fracturing is the process of fracturing rock at ...
  2. Reserves to Production Ratio

    The reserves to production ratio indicates the remaining lifespan ...
  3. Produced Water

    Produced water is waste water generated during the production ...
  4. Wellbore

    A wellbore is a hole that is drilled to aid in the exploration ...
  5. Groundwater

    Groundwater is water that is below the land surface of the earth.
  6. Commercial Well

    Oil or gas drilling sites that produce enough oil to be commercially ...
Related Articles
  1. Investing

    What is Fracking?

    Fracking, a slang term for hydraulic fracturing, is a method for extracting natural gas from sedimentary rocks.
  2. Investing

    Fracking Companies: Practices, Profit Opportunities & Outlook

    Learn about the business opportunities available to companies in the fracking, how they operate and new innovations going on in the stream.
  3. Investing

    With Fracking It’s All About Water Management

    It takes an awfully large amount of water to frack an oil and gas well these days. Given the growth projections for production activity in the U.S. and Canada, water management could be one of ...
  4. Investing

    Fracking and Other Oil Drilling Tech: A Primer

    Well-stimulation technologies have fundamentally changed the market through their recent widespread adoption in North America. Here's a rundown.
  5. Investing

    How Oil Prices Impact the U.S. Economy

    Now that the United States has increased oil production through shale oil and fracking, low oil prices can harm the U.S. oil industry and its workers.
  6. Investing

    Countries With The Highest Fracking Potential

    Is fracking a "necessary evil," as some believe? Here are some countries with huge fracking potential--and what they stand to lose or gain from fracking.
  7. Investing

    The Smartest Strategies For Trading Natural Gas Options

    There are multiple strategies for trading natural gas options, once you have the right data. Here we discuss the basics.
  8. Investing

    Demand for Frac Sand and Concrete Drives Scarcity

    Despite its ubiquity, sand is a valuable natural resource.
  9. Financial Advisor

    The US States That Produce the Most Oil

    Learn what eight states produce over 90% of U.S. oil, and how fracking has helped the United States become the world's largest oil-producing nation.
RELATED FAQS
  1. How does fracking affect oil prices?

    Read about the short- and long-term impacts of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, on global oil markets and oil ... Read Answer >>
  2. How has fracking helped the U.S. to decrease dependence on foreign oil?

    Learn about the drilling technique referred to as fracking, and discover how this technology has significantly reduced U.S. ... Read Answer >>
  3. What are the main benchmarks that track the oil & gas drilling sector?

    Read about several different types of benchmarks that investors can use to track the overall performance of the oil and gas ... Read Answer >>
  4. How does government regulation impact the metals and mining sector?

    Learn how permit processes and regulations impact new mining projects. Discover how government bureaucracy and litigation ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center