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 discovered but that could be recovered using today’s knowledge and technology.
  • Research on water supplies and water quality, including any possible effects on water resources related to oil and gas production and the composition of water injected into and produced from hydrocarbon wells.
  • Research on induced seismicity in areas of hydraulic fracturing and wastewater injection.

Related Content

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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...

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...

Can hydraulic fracturing impact the quality of groundwater or surface water?

Conducted properly, hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) has little possibility of contaminating water supplies. Properly constructed wells prevent drilling fluids, hydraulic fracturing fluids, deep saline formation waters, or oil and gas from entering aquifers. Carefully constructed and operated well sites have the ability to contain potential...
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Date published: October 26, 2015

A Century of Induced Earthquakes in Oklahoma?

The rate of earthquakes has increased sharply since 2009 in the central and eastern United States, with growing evidence confirming that these earthquakes are primarily caused by human activity, namely the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Date published: March 3, 2015

What Happens to the Water? Assessing Water Quality in Areas with Hydraulically Fractured Oil and Gas Wells

More data and research are necessary to best understand the potential risks to water quality associated with unconventional oil and gas development in the United States, according to a recent U.S. Geological Survey study.

Attribution: Energy and Minerals
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: June 4, 2012

Media Advisory: USGS to Host Congressional Briefing: Hydraulic Fracturing - The State of the Science

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting wells with water, sand, and chemicals at very high pressure to enable oil and natural gas production. These "unconventional" resources pose both opportunities and challenges. Join us to learn how USGS and its partners provide information so policy makers and resource managers can make decisions based on sound science.

Date published: April 2, 2012

Hydraulic Fracturing Topic of Free USGS Lecture Wednesday

RESTON, Va.— Hydraulic fracturing— a technology used to extract unconventional oil and natural gas from previously impermeable, compact rock — is the topic of a free public lecture Wednesday, April 4 at 7 p.m. at the U.S. Geological Survey National Center in Reston, Va. A panel of USGS experts will discuss the opportunities and impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing.

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Hydraulic Fracturing and Directional Drilling
November 17, 2016

Hydraulic Fracturing and Directional Drilling

Hydraulic Fracturing and Directional Drilling

Image: Withdrawing Water for Hydraulic Fracturing
March 14, 2016

Withdrawing Water for Hydraulic Fracturing

Equipment set up to pump water from a lake to an impoundment for hydraulic fracturing in the Fayetteville Shale of Arkansas.

Image shows USGS scientists standing beside a drill rig in protective gear.
September 14, 2015

Drilling a Core for the Eagle Ford

USGS scientists drilling a research core near Waco, Texas. This core was drilled by USGS during field work for an oil and gas assessment for the Eagle Ford of the Gulf Coast Basins. Cores like these provide information on the various rock layers, such as their make-up, their age, etc.

The USGS assesses undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources for

...
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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video thumbnail: Science or Soundbite? Shale Gas, Hydraulic Fracturing, and Induced Earthquakes
April 3, 2012

Science or Soundbite? Shale Gas, Hydraulic Fracturing, and Induced Earthquakes

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting wells with water, sand, and chemicals at very high pressure. This process creates fractures in deeply buried rocks to allow for the extraction of oil and natural gas as well as geothermal energy. USGS scientists discuss the opportunities and impact associated with hydraulic fracturing. Doug Duncan, associate coordinator for

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Generalized image showing the key points in hydraulic fracturing

Generalized image showing the key points in hydraulic fracturing

Generalized image showing the key points in hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas development where water is part of the process.

Attribution: Energy and Minerals