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Hydraulic Fracturing


Hydraulic fracturing, informally referred to as “fracking,” is an oil and gas well development process that typically involves injecting water, sand, and chemicals under high pressure into a bedrock formation via the well. This process is intended to create new fractures in the rock as well as increase the size, extent, and connectivity of existing fractures. Hydraulic fracturing is a well-stimulation technique used commonly in low-permeability rocks like tight sandstone, shale, and some coal beds to increase oil and/or gas flow to a well from petroleum-bearing rock formations. A similar technique is used to create improved permeability in underground geothermal reservoirs.

The Energy Resources Program (ERP) continually updates its oil and gas resource assessments for the United States and the world that includes the USGS National Oil and Gas Assessment (NOGA). NOGA provides information for a number of uses, including the development of domestic energy policies and the formulation of reasonably foreseeable development scenarios and resource management plans for multiple Federal land- and resource-management agencies. Here are just a few basins that include unconventional gas (shale gas, tight gas and coal bed methane) associated with hydraulic fracturing:

  • Barnett Shale, Ft. Worth Basin, Texas
  • Fayetteville Shale, Arkoma Basin, Arkansas
  • Marcellus Shale, Appalachian Basin
  • Utica Shale, Appalachian Basin

NOGA shale gas previewShale Gas preview from the National Oil and Gas Assessment (NOGA) interactive map.

Researchers in the Energy Resources Program and colleagues are also actively engaged in examining several aspects related to characterization, use, and impact of produced waters. From the Energy Resources Program fact sheet (Fact Sheet 2010–3100):

"Development and production of oil and gas resources can also require and yield significant quantities of water. Produced water and fluids used and recovered during hydrofracturing (hydrofracing) are likely to play an expanding role in energy resource considerations because treatment and disposal costs for produced and hydrofracing waters vary markedly. Also, the potential beneficial use of produced waters is an area of expanding interest, particularly in areas with limited water resources. The USGS conducts research to provide information on the volume, quality, impacts, and possible uses of water produced during oil, gas, and coalbed methane production and development in the United States."     
>> Produced Waters Website

More research on hydraulic fracturing is underway by a number of USGS offices including the Energy Resources Program, Water Resources, Natural Hazards and Environmental Health. This includes a major study conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The USGS has a large role in a recent Memorandum of Agreement among the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency to improve our scientific understanding of the environmental issues related to unconventional oil and gas.

The accurate and unbiased scientific data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey are crucial to the Federal, and State resource managers to meet the challenge of balancing America’s needs for unconventional resources and a clean and healthy environment.

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USGS Publications both inside and outside of the Energy Resources Program

USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2014-5131 (01/12/2015): Trends in Hydraulic Fracturing Distributions and Treatment Fluids, Additives, Proppants, and Water Volumes Applied to Wells Drilled in the United States from 1947 through 2010—Data Analysis and Comparison to the Literature

USGS Data Series 868 (01/12/2015): Data Regarding Hydraulic Fracturing Distributions and Treatment Fluids, Additives, Proppants, and Water Volumes Applied to Wells Drilled in the United States from 1947 through 2010

Water Resources Research Article (AGU Publication, 01/30/2015): What Happens to the Water? Assessing Water Quality in Areas with Hydraulically Fractured Oil and Gas Wells

USGS National Geomagnetism Program (Oilfield Review, Autumn 2013): Geomagnetic Referencing–The Real-Time Compass for Directional Drillers

USGS Open-File Report 2013–1167 (9/4/2013): Dissolved Methane in Groundwater, Upper Delaware River Basin, Pennsylvania and New York, 2007–12

USGS Fact Sheet 2012-3049 (4/25/2013): Water Quality Studied in Areas of Unconventional Oil and Gas Development, Including Areas Where Hydraulic Fracturing Techniques are Used, in the United States 

USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5273 (1/9/2013): Shallow Groundwater Quality and Geochemistry in the Fayetteville Shale Gas-Production Area, North-Central Arkansas, 2011

USGS News Release (11/20/2012): Measuring Landscape Disturbance of Gas Exploration in Greene and Tioga Counties

USGS News Release (9/5/2012): Measuring Landscape Disturbance of Gas Exploration in Bradford and Washington Counties

Page Last Modified: Monday, April 27, 2015



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