The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Did You Know? Fracking Explained

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted October 29, 2009

Did you know that hydraulic fracturing has been used in about one million oil and natural gas wells in the United States? This tried-and-true process injects wells with water, small amounts of chemicals and sand to create tiny cracks in hard rock, allowing natural gas and/or oil to flow up the wellbore. Fracking, as it's often called, occurs thousands of feet below aquifers containing fresh water, and water supplies are protected by state well construction and drilling regulations.

But there is a misperception in many parts of the country that hydraulic fracturing threatens drinking water. According to Bruce Vincent, vice chair of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, who testified at the inaugural hearing of the new House Natural Gas Caucus last week, this misperception is being fostered by critics to "mischaracterize and demonize" the development of shale gas. As he put it, "opponents have resorted to baseless allegations of environmental frighten local communities."

Vincent said these fear tactics are prevalent in areas where residents are less familiar with oil and natural-gas field operations, including the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and New York. He added that "no pattern of failure that harms the environment [has] occurred" during fracking's nearly 60-year history.

The video below explains hydraulic fracturing and natural-gas field operations from the point-of-view of oilfield specialists and a homeowner. The video was shot on location in Texas and Colorado.


Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.