Fracking 101

What is fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a decades old well completion technology that is often coupled with horizontal drilling to develop oil and natural gas resources from tight rock formations. Fracking occurs after drilling has been completed and involves pumping fluid — typically 99 percent water and sand, with an additional mixture of chemical additives — into the target formation at pressure in order to open up small fractures in the rock, which allow oil and gas to flow out of these tight formations.

How has fracking impacted domestic oil and natural gas production?

In roughly a decade’s time, advances in fracking technology have reversed the U.S. trajectory from that of energy scarcity to being “the undisputed leader of oil and gas production worldwide,” according to International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol.

From 2007 to 2016, annual U.S. oil production increased 75 percent, while natural gas production increased 39 percent. Thanks to fracking, the notion of “peak oil” has been effectively debunked.

Does fracking threaten groundwater?

No. And you don’t have to take our word for it. No fewer than two dozen scientific studies have concluded that fracking does not pose a major threat to groundwater. Most notably, a landmark 2016 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study concluded that, “[H]ydraulic fracturing operations are unlikely to generate sufficient pressure to drive fluids into shallow drinking water zones.” The EPA reached this conclusion even after expanding the definition of fracking to include a wide range of other oilfield activities, demonstrating the safety of the entire development process.

Do companies disclose the chemicals used during fracking?

Yes., a searchable, nationwide database, includes information on the additives used in the fracturing process for oil and natural gas wells all across the country. Many states mandate that companies use FracFocus, and the federal government has similarly endorsed it as a useful tool for providing information to the public.

It is also important to note that 99 percent of the fluid used for fracking is composed of water and sand. A small fraction of what remains includes many common industrial and even household materials that millions of American consumers use every day. By both weight and volume, the most prominent of these materials is a substance known as “guar,” which is an emulsifying agent more typically found in ice cream. Other additives include surfactants, which are similar to dish soap, and compounds that prevent bacteria from forming in the well bore.

Is fracking a threat to public health?

No. In fact, there is ample evidence that increased natural gas use — made possible by fracking — has improved public health by dramatically improving air quality in recent years. This is not to say there are no risks, but the full body of research on this issue shows that those risks are manageable.

Several state departments of environmental protection have also installed air monitors at well sites and found that emissions during oil and natural gas development do not exceed public health thresholds. For example, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment released a 2017 report that found a “low risk of harmful health effects from combined exposure to all substances during oil and gas development.” In contrast, many of the most headline-grabbing studies linking fracking to health issues have been plagued by questionable methodologies and contradictory results.

Visit for more information.

How many jobs has fracking created?

Millions. A 2015 Harvard Business School/Boston Consulting Group analysis estimates that shale development created roughly 2.7 million jobs in the first decade of the shale revolution. A 2013 study, commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, projected fracking will create a total of 3.5 million U.S jobs by 2035. A separate 2017 American Petroleum Institute (API) report found that the oil and natural gas industry supports 10.3 million jobs in the U.S. — a 500,000 increase since 2011 — and projects the industry will support an additional 1.9 million jobs by 2035.

Does fracking cause earthquakes?

Very rarely. Although induced seismicity (particularly in Oklahoma) has made headlines in recent years, earthquakes attributable to the actual fracking process are exceedingly rare and generally below the magnitude that people can actually feel. Induced earthquakes are more commonly linked to wastewater injection — a completely separate process from fracking.

The U.S. Geological Survey maintains a useful myths and misconceptions page regarding induced seismicity. According to the USGS: “Fracking is NOT causing most of the induced earthquakes.” The USGS also notes: “Wastewater disposal is the primary cause of the recent increase in earthquakes in the central United States.”

Do methane leaks from fracking erode the climate benefits of natural gas?

No. You’ve probably heard claims that methane leaks from oil and natural gas development not only worsen climate change, but also erode the low-carbon benefits of natural gas. But like so much of the anti-fossil fuel “Keep It In the Ground” campaign, what they are saying has no basis in science or evidence. The climate benefits of natural gas are clear.

Reputable third-party experts such as the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and International Energy Agency (IEA) all agree that natural gas maintains a climate benefit over other traditional fuel sources, even at leakage rates far greater than what is currently documented. The current U.S. methane leakage rate is at or below 1.5 percent, according to the latest EPA data – far less than the 3.2 percent threshold for natural gas to maintain its climate benefits.

Visit for more information.