The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

The Truth about Hydraulic Fracturing

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted June 25, 2010

Vanity Fair is known for publishing provocative articles, and this week's Web edition is no exception.

In an article titled, "A Colossal Fracking Mess," the magazine follows in the footsteps of other journalists and documentary producers by providing an unbalanced and sensationalized account of hydraulic fracturing.

As we've discussed on this blog, hydraulic fracturing is the tried-and-true oil and natural gas-field practice. It forces water, sand and trace amounts of chemicals into the wellbore under high pressure to create fissures allowing the energy resources to flow up to the surface.

When fracking, as it's called, is combined with horizontal drilling, it can unlock natural gas and oil from hard rock formations. Thanks to the use of fracking in U.S. shale formations, energy analysts say the we now have about 100 years of natural gas supplies based on current consumption levels.

The Vanity Fair article implies that groundwater contamination and "mysterious health problems" can occur when fracking "is allowed to take place without proper regulation." Yet it offers no proof--no scientific evidence--that fracking causes any of the problems discussed in the article.

Here are the facts:

  • Hydraulic fracturing has never been exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The oil and natural gas industry is regulated by the SDWA and many other federal laws under provisions that are relevant to industry operations. Additionally, states have primary jurisdiction over oil and gas-field operations and have extensive regulatory programs directing such operations. An independent study by the Ground Water Protection Council recently determined that the state laws are effective in regulating the industry and protecting water resources.
  • Fracking companies do not refuse to divulge the chemicals in fracking fluids. In accord with federal law, the industry provides detailed information about chemicals used at each job site and provides this information to the proper authorities. Plus information about fluid components are available on company websites and at Energy In Depth. More than 99.5 percent of the fracking fluid is water and sand.
  • There are no confirmed incidents of fracturing operations contaminating groundwater. Fracking has been used in more than one million wells in the United States, and studies by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Ground Water Protection Council have confirmed no direct link between hydraulic fracturing operations and the contamination of groundwater drinking supplies. The wells are drilled thousands of feet below the aquifers, and the groundwater is protected by casing.

fracking.jpg

Check out the above diagram to see how the wells are constructed and the distance between the fracking and the aquifer.

Let's be clear: There have been accidental spills of drilling muds and other fluids on the surface. The responsible parties in these cases have been fined and ordered to remediate the site. But these inexcusable incidents should not be confused with the practice of fracking, which occurs thousands of feet below aquifers.

The Vanity Fair article does a disservice to the American public by failing to provide a balanced portrayal of this proven energy technology. By providing incomplete and misleading information, the article is fostering a political environment that could lead to the enactment of misguided energy policy.

For more factual information about hydraulic fracturing, go to API's website and read our fact sheet on Scribd.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.