New USGS Report Traces Long History of Hydraulic Fracturing

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has made almost 70 years of hydraulic fracturing data available to the public in a recently released report.

Highlighting the long history of fracking in United States, the report covers nearly 1.8 million fracking treatment records from 1947 through 2010 at 986,000 oil and natural gas wells, putting to rest anti-fracking activists’ claims that hydraulic fracturing is a “relatively new” process.

The report spends considerable time laying out the reasons that hydraulic fracturing is responsible for the U.S. energy revolution, pointing out that the combination of hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling is largely responsible for this renaissance:

“[T]he proportion of newly drilled horizontal/directional wells rose from 6 percent of hydraulically fractured wells drilled in 2000 to 42 percent in 2010. About 73 percent of horizontal well treatments during this period were used to produce natural gas with the remainder used to produce oil resources.” (p. 10)

The report goes on to explain that the advancement in hydraulic fracturing fluids has also played a major role:

“Increases in horizontal drilling also coincided with the emergence of water-based ‘slick water’ fracturing fluids. As such, the most current hydraulic fracturing materials and methods are notably different from those used in previous decades and have contributed to the development of previously inaccessible unconventional oil and gas production target areas, namely in shale and tight-sand reservoirs.” (p. 1)

These factors came together and, as the report states,

“There have been significant advancements in both drilling and treatment fluids since their initial applications, most strikingly since 2000. The most recent hydraulic fracturing production methods have resulted in a dramatic increase in oil and gas development, particularly in shale reservoir rocks previously considered too impermeable or uneconomic for exploitation. Between 2000 and 2010, the greatest number of hydraulic fracturing treatments were applied to wells drilled within the Appalachian, Gulf Coast, and Permian Basins, but hydraulic fracturing is in widespread use for the development of unconventional, continuous oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquid accumulations in most of the major oil and gas basins within the United States. Development of these resources, made newly accessible by directional/horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies, are contributing to energy reserves in the United States.” (p. 13; emphasis added).

Not only does hydraulic fracturing have a long history, it’s also a history of safe development.  Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who presides over the USGS, has emphasized on numerous occasions that fracking has been done safely for years.  As she put it, activists who claim “fracking is dangerous and should be curtailed full-stop” ignore that “fracking has been done safely for decades.” Jewell later said that fracking bans are “the wrong way to go.” Likewise, President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “[t]here’s nothing inherently dangerous in fracking that sound engineering practices can’t accomplish.”

While the USGS does note that hydraulic fracturing has become more water intensive as hydraulic fracturing fluids, which have helped to unlock vast resources, have become more advanced, it’s important to remember that shale development only accounts for 0.3 percent of the United States’ total freshwater consumption. Further, producers are making a huge effort to reduce their water footprint. As the Associated Press reported in 2013, “[water] [r]ecycling is rapidly becoming a popular and economic solution for a burgeoning industry.”

To sum up: USGS’s report details the almost 70 year history of the safe development of our resources through hydraulic fracturing, explaining the innovations to the technique, which have allowed us to access our vast, previously unattainable resources.  In that sense, it’s a history of how – through American ingenuity and innovation – the United States experienced an energy boom that has utterly changed the game for the benefit of all Americans.

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