What Is Hydraulic Fracturing?


Contrary to many media reports, hydraulic fracturing is not a “drilling process.” Hydraulic fracturing is used after the drilled hole is completed. Put simply, hydraulic fracturing is the use of fluid and material to create or restore small fractures in a formation in order to stimulate production from new and existing oil and gas wells. This creates paths that increase the rate at which fluids can be produced from the reservoir formations, in some cases by many hundreds of percent.

The process includes steps to protect water supplies. To ensure that neither the fluid that will eventually be pumped through the well, nor the oil or gas that will eventually be collected, enters the water supply, steel surface or intermediate casings are inserted into the well to depths of between 1,000 and 4,000 feet. The space between these casing “strings” and the drilled hole (wellbore), called the annulus, is filled with cement. Once the cement has set, then the drilling continues from the bottom of the surface or intermediate cemented steel casing to the next depth. This process is repeated, using smaller steel casing each time, until the oil and gas-bearing reservoir is reached (generally 6,000 to 10,000 ft).

The oil and gas industry has a long and successful history of conducting hydraulic fracturing in a safe manner. Still, many organizations whose mission it is end the use of fuels such as crude oil and natural gas have focused tremendous time and resources on scaring the American public about alleged hazards of the practice. The ROPE Coalition stands firmly behind the idea that stringent regulations are required to protect the public in all oil and gas drilling, completion and production operations. We believe that those regulations are best developed and implemented on a state-by-state basis, not by a “one size fits all” federal regulatory regime.

Hydraulic fracturing is not new. The first commercial application of hydraulic fracturing as a well treatment technology designed to stimulate the production of oil or gas likely occurred in either the Hugoton field of Kansas in 1946 or near Duncan Oklahoma in 1949. In the ensuing sixty plus years, the use of hydraulic fracturing has developed into a routine technology that is frequently used in the completion of gas wells, particularly those involved in what’s called “unconventional production,” such as production from so-called “tight shale” reservoirs. The process has been used on over 1 million producing wells. As the technology continues to develop and improve, operators now fracture as many as 35,000 wells of all types (vertical and horizontal, oil and natural gas) each year.

Hydraulic fracturing has had an enormous impact on America’s energy history, particularly in recent times. The ability to produce more oil and natural gas from older wells and to develop new production once thought impossible has made the process valuable for US domestic energy production. Without hydraulic fracturing, as much as 80 percent of unconventional production from such formations as gas shales would be, on a practical basis, impossible.