Shale Gas 101

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Shale Gas 101
This webpage has been developed to answer the many questions that people have about shale gas and hydraulic fracturing (or fracking). The information provided below explains the basics, including what shale gas is, where it’s found, why it’s important, how it’s produced, and challenges associated with production.

Natural gas production from “shale” formations (fine-grained sedimentary rocks with relatively low permeability that can be rich sources of petroleum and natural gas) is one of the most rapidly-growing trends in U.S. domestic energy exploration and production. In some cases, this fast expansion has resulted in natural gas drilling and production activity in parts of the country that have seen little or no activity of this type in the recent past.

This page has been designed with the public in mind, and we want your feedback. Please take some time to learn more about shale gas and hydraulic fracturing technology by navigating through the ‘Shale Gas Basics’ area of the page. For those who have a basic knowledge of shale gas and hydraulic fracturing and want to learn more, or those working in the industry and looking for more detailed information, go to the ‘Shale Gas Pro’ section of the page. If you still have questions, help us grow the page by contacting us with your questions.

Shale Gas Basics

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is shale gas development regulated at the federal, state or local level?
  2. Who has the lead regulatory responsibility?
  3. What exactly is regulated?
  4. How can I find out what agency in my state is responsible for shale gas regulation?
  5. I am considering a mineral rights/oil and gas rights transaction and/or have concerns about shale gas drilling activity near my property; what should I do?
  6. A company is constructing a new shale gas well on or near my property and will use hydraulic fracturing. Can’t the gas be produced some other way?
  7. What kind of noise and surface disturbance can I expect from development of a new shale well?
  8. Aren’t shale fracturing fluids toxic?
  9. Will hydraulic fracturing endanger my water well?
  10. What happens to the waste water (flowback water) used in hydraulic fracturing?
  11. What is “produced” water and how is it handled?
  12. Doesn’t hydraulic fracturing cause earthquakes?
  13. What is the role of the U.S. Department of Energy in regard to natural gas production from shale?
Is shale gas development regulated at the federal, state or local level?
In many cases, all three. At a minimum there are eight federal environmental and public health laws that apply to unconventional oil and gas development, which includes shale resources; however, for some of these laws, key exemptions or limitations in regulatory coverage can affect applicability. There are at least 16 states that currently have or are expected to have shale gas development, and related laws and regulations. State law determines the extent of authority local municipalities may have; this authority will vary from state to state.

Who has the lead regulatory responsibility?
States often have the lead role in regulating shale gas development activities; many federal requirements have been delegated to states. A number of states have been involved in overseeing oil and gas exploration and development for much longer than the federal government. Federal agencies have primary responsibility where the federal government owns or controls mineral rights or lands.

What exactly is regulated?
Taking into account federal, state and local laws and regulations, virtually every aspect of exploration, production and site restoration activities, including well design, location, spacing, operation, water and waste management and disposal, air quality, wildlife protection, surface impacts, site closure and health and safety.

How can I find out what agency in my state is responsible for shale gas regulation?
State agencies that regulate shale development environmental practices and monitor and enforce laws and regulations may be located in the Department of Natural Resources (such as Ohio), the Department of Environmental Protection (as in Pennsylvania), or some other agency. Sometimes multiple agencies are involved, having jurisdiction over different activities and aspects of development. For a list of regulatory agencies for states with oil and gas development, see Exhibit 26, page 28 at: http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/oil-gas/publications/epreports/shale_gas_primer_2009.pdf. Alternatively, view regulations by state at FracFocus.

I am considering a mineral rights/oil and gas rights transaction and/or have concerns about shale gas drilling activity near my property; what should I do?
Understanding the laws of your state is essential. Contact the state regulatory agency involved (see links above); for any transaction, get advice from an attorney who specializes in the area involved on how laws and regulations apply to your situation.

A company is constructing a new shale gas well on or near my property and will use hydraulic fracturing. Can’t the gas be produced some other way?
In most cases, no. In an unconventional reservoir like shale, the gas is often taken from the rock itself. So the reservoir must be “mechanically stimulated” to break apart the rock and release the gas. Hydraulic fracturing, a mature 60-year-old technology, is usually the most efficient and economical way to do this. That’s why up to 95 percent of new wells drilled today are hydraulically fractured. Plus, technology and methods continue to improve; DOE is conducting research to develop technologies that reduce the volumes of water used.

What kind of noise and surface disturbance can I expect from development of a new shale well?
There will be temporary disruption and impacts on the surrounding landscape, including increased truck traffic; clearing and construction of the well pad and access road; drilling activities; noise and potential air quality degradation from heavy machinery like bulldozers and graders; significant water use; and possible wildlife habitat fragmentation. The degree of surface impacts can be affected by many factors, including the location and rate of development; geological characteristics; climatic conditions; the degree of new technologies and best practices employed by the producing company; and regulatory and enforcement requirements and activities. Advanced technologies are increasingly allowing energy companies to access far more natural gas with fewer wells and disturbed acres.

Aren’t shale fracturing fluids toxic?
The make-up of fracturing fluids, or “slickwater,” varies from one geologic basin to another, but in general, it consists of about 99 percent water and the remainder sand and chemical additives, some of which are potentially toxic if mishandled. The proper management and use of fracturing fluids is one key to environmental protection in regard to shale production, is enforced by laws and regulations, and is taken seriously by operators. Disclosure of fluid additives is an important issue which some states have addressed through legislation; FracFocus is an online registry for companies to disclose the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing (http://fracfocus.org/).

Will hydraulic fracturing endanger my water well?
Both fracturing and horizontal drilling activities take place thousands of feet below drinking water acquifers. An earlier study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found no confirmed cases linking hydraulic fracturing to drinking water well contamination. EPA is currently updating this study with data specifically focusing on natural gas drilling in shale formations. The National Petroleum Council (NPC) concluded that certain highly publicized instances of water wells being contaminated by methane were unrelated to hydraulic fracturing and due instead to drilling encountering shallow geologic zones containing natural gas, which migrated to drinking water acquifers and domestic wells.

What happens to the waste water (flowback water) used in hydraulic fracturing?
For most shale wells, hydraulic fracturing involves injecting under high pressure several million gallons of water, sand and a small amount of chemical additives. Some of this fluid mixture (10-20 percent) immediately returns to the surface via the well and is called flowback. Additional volumes can return over time as the well is produced, or remain absorbed in the shale formation. Well operators increasingly are recycling flowback, treating it and mixing with fresh water to reuse and significantly reduce the amount of wastewater. Flowback can also be treated and discharged to rivers or streams or disposed of (often through injection into deep formations) in an approved manner that complies with law.

What is “produced” water and how is it handled?
Produced water is naturally occurring water found in shale formations; it generally flows to the surface during the entire lifespan of a well. How this often highly saline water is managed and treated depends on many factors – basically the options after treatment are deep injection back into the sub-surface; using it to return water to the local ecosystem; and recycling it for use in hydraulic fracturing operations.

Doesn’t hydraulic fracturing cause earthquakes?
According to a recent National Academies of Sciences (NAS) study, scientists do not believe the process of hydraulic fracturing a well for shale gas production poses a significant risk for inducing seismic events that are felt at the surface. Injection for disposal of waste water from the process, however, may pose some risk, although very few instances have ever been documented. NAS has recommended additional research to better understand and address the potential risks.

What is the role of the U.S. Department of Energy in regard to natural gas production from shale?
DOE has a legacy of helping pioneer technologies and processes to improve shale and other unconventional gas extraction, as well as enhance environmental protection. DOE research continues to search for innovative solutions to shale exploration, development, production and environmental protection challenges.

 

Shale Gas Pro

Want to learn more? Check out the links below for more shale gas information: