Hydraulic fracturing is a well stimulation technique that allows energy producers to tap into challenging geographic formations. This technology has been around since 1947, hydraulic fracturing — in combination with horizontal drilling — has spurred the Shale Revolution in the United States. There are over one million hydraulically fractured wells in North America, and the National Petroleum Council estimates that this technology will eventually account for 70% of natural gas production in the United States.1
To hydraulically fracture a well, producers inject a mixture of pressurized liquid containing water, chemicals, and a proppant inside a wellbore to create cracks in the rock formation, allowing oil and natural gas to flow more freely.
Schematic of hydraulic fracturing. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
Hydraulic fracturing has been controversial due to the nature of the technology and its environmental impact, including water depletion and contamination, increased surface pollution, and the potential for induced earthquakes. While these challenges are being addressed at the state and local level in the United States, environmental risks could delay the diffusion of hydraulic fracturing to other countries.