Hydraulic Fracturing Technology

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Image taken from "Shale Gas: Applying Technology to Solve America's Energy Challenges," NETL, 2011.

Image taken from "Shale Gas: Applying Technology to Solve America's Energy Challenges," NETL, 2011.

Hydraulic fracturing is a technique in which large volumes of water and sand, and small volumes of chemical additives are injected into low-permeability subsurface formations to increase oil or natural gas flow. The injection pressure of the pumped fluid creates fractures that enhance gas and fluid flow, and the sand or other coarse material holds the fractures open. Most of the injected fluid flows back to the wellbore and is pumped to the surface.

Hydraulic fracturing has been used for over 60 years in over one million wells. Recently, public concern about potential impacts on drinking water and other environmental damage has significantly grown. Consequently, Congress directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2010 to conduct a study of this practice to better understand any potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and groundwater. DOE/NETL is working closely with the EPA as it carries out the study and is also collaborating with the Department of the Interior to enhance understanding of these risks.

On May 5, 2011, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu charged the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Natural Gas Subcommittee to make recommendations to improve the safety and environmental performance of natural gas hydraulic fracturing from shale formations. Secretary Chu extended the Subcommittee membership beyond SEAB members to include the natural gas industry, states, and environmental experts. The Subcommittee is supported by the Departments of Energy and Interior, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

President Obama directed U.S. Energy Secretary Chu to form the Natural Gas Subcommittee as part of the President’s "Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future" - a comprehensive plan to reduce America's oil dependence, save consumers money, and make our country the leader in clean energy industries.

Resources for Regulators and Producers  

  • The Resources section of the SEAB Natural Gas Subcommittee website provides numerous presentations on state and industry guidance on hydraulic fracturing technology. 
  • EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Study: DOE will participate in the 2010-2012 study to provide scientific data and expertise.
  • ALL Consulting Water Treatment Technology Catalog and Decision Tool an interactive catalogue of shale gas produced water treatments, pairing an operator’s water treatment cost and capacity needs to optimum water treatment technologies. In development – Water Mixing-Shale Affinity module is currently online.