How and where do drillers dispose of waste hydraulic fracturing fluid?

Most of the water and additives used in hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) remain deep underground in the geologic formation from which the oil or gas is being extracted. But some of the fluid, mixed with water or brine from the formation, returns through the well to the surface and is referred to as “produced water”. After a well is brought on-line, large volumes of produced water (primarily composed of the injected fluid) are generated.

Produced water is often disposed of by injecting it into deep geologic formations via wells that are specifically designed for that purpose. In some cases, produced water can be treated and reused to hydraulically fracture another well. In other cases, the water is clean enough to meet regulatory standards and is discharged into local watersheds. Practices vary between regions, depending on regulations, geologic conditions, and water availability. 

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Why have some estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil or gas changed so much from previous estimates?

Petroleum geologists have long known that oil and gas resources were present in “tight” or impermeable formations such as shale. But there was no way feasible way to extract that oil and gas, so they were not “technically recoverable” and were not be included in USGS assessment results. Thanks to new technologies, oil and gas can now be extracted...

Where in the United States is hydraulic fracturing being used for oil and gas extraction?

Hydraulic fracturing is used in many established oil and gas producing regions of the country as well as some areas new to the petroleum industry. Maps of major shale gas, tight gas, and tight oil basins are available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, although not all of the shale basins shown currently have production.

Who is responsible for monitoring the issues associated with hydraulic fracturing and protecting our environment?

Individual states regulate many aspects of oil and gas exploration and production. Federal land managers, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have some oversight of oil and gas activities on the lands they manage. This includes conducting environmental impact...

When did hydraulic fracturing become such a popular approach to oil and gas production?

Hydraulic fracturing in vertical wells has been used for over fifty years to improve the flow of oil and gas from conventional reservoirs. However, the current practice of horizontal drilling coupled with multiple applications of hydraulic fracturing in a single well was pioneered in the late 1980s and has continued to evolve. Since the final...

What is 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...

What is in the fluid injected into the ground during hydraulic fracturing?

In general, hydraulic fracturing fluid is composed of water, proppant (typically sand), and chemicals. A public website known as FracFocus has been established by industry that lists specific materials used in many, but not all, hydraulically fractured wells. Individual companies select a few chemicals to be used from hundreds that are available...

What is the USGS role related to hydraulic fracturing?

The USGS is a science research agency with no regulatory, land management, or enforcement powers. This includes: research and assessments on the location, quantity, and quality of unconventional oil and gas resources whose production could involve hydraulic fracturing. Resource assessments estimate the quantity of oil and gas that is yet to be...

How much water does the typical hydraulically fractured well require?

There isn’t really a “typical” fractured well because the amount of water used depends on the rock formation, the operator, whether the well is vertical or horizontal, and the number of portions (or stages) of the well that are fractured. In addition, some water is recycled from fluids produced by the well, so the net consumption might be smaller...

What environmental issues are associated with hydraulic fracturing?

The actual practice of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) is only a small part of the overall process of drilling, completing, and producing an oil and gas well. Environmental issues that are specifically related to hydraulic fracturing include: water availability spills of chemicals at the surface impacts of sand mining for use in the hydraulic...

How is hydraulic fracturing related to earthquakes and tremors?

Reports of hydraulic fracturing causing felt earthquakes are extremely rare. However, wastewater produced by wells that were hydraulic fractured can cause “induced” earthquakes when it is injected into deep wastewater wells. Wastewater disposal wells operate for longer durations and inject much more fluid than the hydraulic fracturing operations...

How does hydraulic fracturing affect the surface or landscape of an area?

An area undergoing production of oil or gas using hydraulic fracturing technology shares many features with areas where conventional oil or gas is being developed, including: Roads Pipelines Compressor stations Processing facilities. Features that are unique to areas in which hydraulic fracturing is used include: Fewer but larger drilling pads,...

How does hydraulic fracturing differ from traditional petroleum development methods?

In a conventional oil or gas field, where the oil or gas is in relatively porous and permeable rock (i.e. the pores are connected), the oil or gas can usually flow naturally from the reservoir rock to the wellbore. Nonetheless, a variety of techniques are often used to improve the flow of oil or gas, including hydraulic fracturing. Rock formations...
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Date published: October 24, 2016

Wastewater Disposal Likely Induced February 2016 Magnitude 5.1 Oklahoma Earthquake

Distant wastewater disposal wells likely induced the third largest earthquake in recent Oklahoma record, the Feb. 13, 2016, magnitude 5.1 event roughly 32 kilometers northwest of Fairview, Oklahoma. These findings from the U.S. Geological Survey are available in the online edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

Date published: October 24, 2016

Wastewater Disposal Likely Induced February 2016 Magnitude 5.1 Oklahoma Earthquake

Distant wastewater disposal wells likely induced the third largest earthquake in recent Oklahoma record, the Feb. 13, 2016, magnitude 5.1 event roughly 32 kilometers northwest of Fairview, Oklahoma. These findings from the U.S. Geological Survey are available in the online edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

Date published: May 9, 2016

Evidence of Unconventional Oil and Gas Wastewater Found in Surface Waters near Underground Injection Site

These are the first published studies to demonstrate water-quality impacts to a surface stream due to activities at an unconventional oil and gas wastewater deep well injection disposal site.

Date published: May 11, 2015

The Chemistry of Waters that Follow from Fracking: A Case Study

In a study of 13 hydraulically fractured shale gas wells in north-central Pennsylvania, USGS researchers found that the microbiology and organic chemistry of the produced waters varied widely from well to well.

Date published: January 27, 2015

Historical Hydraulic Fracturing Trends and Data Unveiled in New USGS Publications

Two new U.S. Geological Survey publications that highlight historical hydraulic fracturing trends and data from 1947 to 2010 are now available.

Date published: September 4, 2013

Disinfection of Energy Wastewater Can Lead to Toxic Byproducts

Wastewater treatment plants that process waters from oil and gas development were found to discharge elevated levels of toxic chemicals known as brominated disinfection byproducts, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Image: Hydraulic Fracturing Drill Site
March 14, 2016

Hydraulic Fracturing Drill Site

A typical drill pad in the Marcellus Shale gas play of southwestern Pennsylvania.

USGS scientist collecting water samples on a wastewater disposal facility
June 18, 2014

Scientist Collecting Water Samples at a Wastewater Disposal Facility

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist collecting water samples on a wastewater disposal facility in West Virginia to assess potential environmental impacts due to activities at the site. Shifts in the overall microbial community structure were present in stream sediments

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Oil production and wastewater disposal

Wastewater injection

Most wastewater currently disposed of across the nation is generated and produced in the process of oil and gas extraction. Saltwater is produced as a byproduct during the extraction process. This wastewater is found at nearly every oil and gas extraction well.

The other main constituent of wastewater is leftover hydraulic fracturing fluid. Once hydraulic fracturing

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