Water Grand Challenges: Fracking 101




Warren, Emily

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Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a method of oil and natural gas rxtraction, which utilizes traditional deep vertical and horizontal drilling technologies in conjunction with deep-well solution injection to fracture and stimulate geologically unproductive petroleum-bearing rock formations. The recent boom in shale gas extraction nationwide is a result of successful fracking practices revitalizing formerly unproductive fields. The economic benefit of fracking to the petroleum industry includes profits from expansions in trucking, pipeline services, oil well equipment and services, transportation, storage, refining and distribution. Petroleum and chemical engineering jobs have seen a corresponding growth rate in both the applied and research sectors. The energy production process associated with fracking creates potential environmental dangers. Wells are bored through relatively shallow groundwater aquifers to reach petroleum-bearing shale located thousands of feet below the surface. These wells are typically encased in layers of steel and concrete to prevent leakage of groundwater into the borehole, thus preventing loss of natural gas into the geology or atmosphere. This casement system must be strong enough to withstand the impact of highly pressurized fracturing fluids as they are forced down the well and then returned to the surface as waste without rupturing and contaminating clean aquifers. Fracking fluids are primarily (99%) fresh groundwater produced on or near the well site that is mixed with a cocktail of chemicals and fine sand. This fluid, or “slickwater,” expedites the fracturing of shale resulting in the release of trapped natural gas. The quantity of water used in the process varies, but on average, a producer will use five million (15.3-acre feet) gallons of water per fracking well. These estimates will peak at 148,262,399,285 gallons of water (455,000-acre feet) per year in Texas alone by 2030.



water quality, groundwater, energy production, hydraulic fracking, fracking


Warren, E. (2013). Water grand challenges: Fracking 101 (Report No. 2013-23). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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