A Description of Fracking (Hydraulic Fracturing)


Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” is the method by which drilling companies unlock natural gas reserves trapped in large rock formations. Water, sand and a chemical mixture known as “fracking fluid” are pumped into the ground under high pressure to break up these rock formations, releasing the trapped natural gas and allowing it to flow more easily to the surface. Colorado alone has over 43,000 natural gas wells, which can be drilled as close as 150 feet from residential homes. The combined effects of these have huge impacts on public health and environment as well as on quality of life for community members who live nearest fracking operations.

Although the oil and gas industry maintains that fracking is a safe process, environmental groups and concerned citizens alike warn of “flowback” (the water, sand and often highly-toxic fracking fluid that comes back up out of a well that has been fracked) and of the potentially serious health risks associated with air and water contamination. In addition to gelling agents, acids, friction reducers, and surfactants, many of the chemicals contained in fracking fluid are known carcinogens and contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene, toluene, methylbenzene and xylene. Other major concerns include increased noise, dust, and road usage by large trucks carrying fracking equipment, and the potential escalation of seismic activity.

Much of the controversy surrounding fracking rides on the slow process of federal and state regulation. The 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act was passed to keep clean drinking water sources free from both natural and man-made contaminates. However in 2005, the Bush Administration exempted natural gas drilling from the SDWA and exempted those companies involved from chemical disclosure as well as from EPA regulation. The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (the FRAC Act) was first introduced to the House and the Senate in 2009 and was reintroduced in 2011. The Act aims to define hydraulic fracturing as a federally regulated activity under the Safe Drinking Water Act and to require disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluid. While Congress has not yet passed either of the FRAC Act bills, the 2012 Obama administration unveiled long-awaited rules to bolster oversight of fracking technology used on public lands.

EcoFlight has worked with groups throughout the West to look at the scale and magnitude of fracking operations in the various natural gas fields. Conservation groups are working to make sure that companies are transparent with the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and that it does not take place in sensitive areas or where it might contaminate clean water sources.

The following image shows Gas Production in Conventional fields.  As you can see, the Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park is surrounded by oil and gas development.  Recent studies suggest that Fracking and energy exploration connected to earthquakes.  Many are concerned that the drilling near Yellowstone could possibly agitage this sensitive area and increases the odds of a super volcanic eruption.

Click on the map for a larger view.