What is Fracking?

Fracking Is Unlocking Huge Energy Resources

Hydraulic fracturing – often abbreviated to “fracking” or “frac’ing” – has proven to be a safe, well-tested technology that has enabled the U.S. to dramatically increase unconventional oil and natural gas production. Fracking has been performed in more than 1.2 million wells since 1949 with an exemplary safety record and no documented cases of contamination of drinking water.

The EPA has affirmed repeatedly during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations that there have been no documented cases of contamination of drinking water from hydraulic fracturing. Despite a 2004 study showing no contamination and lacking evidence of any contamination, the EPA is conducting yet another study of hydraulic fracturing, which is due for publication in 2014.

Is Fracking Unregulated?

The oil and natural gas industry is actually one of the most heavily regulated industries in the U.S., regulated by many federal and state bodies, including EPA, OSHA, BLM, state departments of environmental quality, and state oil and gas commissions. Despite this, there have been numerous false claims that fracking is exempt from regulation. For example, claims that fracking enjoys the “Halliburton loophole” refer to the fact that fracking is not regulated under the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). When the act was passed in 1974, Congress determined that the UIC program, which regulates underground waste disposal, is not applicable to fracking. However, companies comply with the many other aspects of the SDWA, particularly when handling fluids at the surface, as well as the Clean Water Act and Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure rule.

What Chemicals Are Used in Fracking?

Fracking fluids typically consist of 99.5 percent water and sand. The remaining 0.5 percent contains primarily three additives: 1) a friction reducer, similar to canola oil, to thicken the liquid; 2) a bactericide like chlorine used in swimming pools; and 3) a microemulsion element similar to that found in personal care products.

The oil and natural gas industry has been voluntarily disclosing fracking chemicals on FracFocus.org since 2011 in response to public demand. Several states have also implemented disclosure regulations. The Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), a body of state water-quality regulators, developed and operates FracFocus. Companies spend millions of dollars developing frack fluids to improve performance, and therefore require intellectual property (IP) protection for their formulas. IP protection encourages innovation in frack fluids that are even more environmentally benign. For this reason, companies disclose the chemicals but not the formula or certain proprietary information.

Successful State Regulation

States have successfully regulated fracking for more than 60 years with exemplary safety records, and new federal mandates are not necessary. The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) and the GWPC, both bodies of state regulators, work hard to ensure state regulatory programs are strong and protective of the environment. IOGCC’s STRONGER program (State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations) reviews state regulations on an ongoing basis to ensure they properly address well construction, wellbore integrity and other key components of hydraulic fracturing safety. Western production states have been leading the way and have all recently strengthened regulatory requirements.