Heartland Ideas

Fracking Facts: What do we know about hydraulic fracturing?

July 28, 2011, 12:58 PM
May 19, 2016, 6:48 AM

Isaac Orr, Research Fellow, The Heartland Institute

Isaac Orr The Heartland InstituteIsaac Orr is a research fellow for energy and environment policy at The Heartland Institute, and can be found on Twitter with the handle "The Fracking Guy." Orr is a speaker, researcher, and writer specializing in hydraulic fracturing, frac sand mining, agricultural, and environmental policy issues. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire with studies in political science and geology, winning awards for his undergraduate geology research before taking a position as an aide in the Wisconsin State Senate, where he served as lead-office writer and as a policy advisor on frac sand mining and agricultural issues.

Since joining Heartland, Orr has written a Heartland Policy Study on fracking titled “Hydraulic Fracturing: A Game-Changer for U.S. Energy and Economies,” and has coauthored multiple Policy Studies on frac sand mining, including “Environmental Impacts of Industrial Silica Sand (Frac Sand) Mining” and “Economic Impacts of Industrial Silica Sand (Frac Sand) Mining,” in addition to his article “Frac Sand Study Lots of Scare, Little Science,” published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in October of 2014.

His writing has appeared in USA Today, the New York Post, The Hill, the Orange County Register, and the Washington Times. His work on fracking is also featured in an upcoming book entitled Alternative Energy and Shale Gas Encyclopedia, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. He has recorded more than a dozen podcasts on energy and environment topics for Heartland. 

Orr writes, “I grew up on a dairy farm, and I want to preserve rural America, and rural American values. Along with agriculture, I am fascinated by geology, mining, groundwater, and other environmental issues.”

New! A series of educational videos on fracking!

What is fracking? Is it safe? People around the country are asking that exact same questions, and finding accurate answers these questions is harder than you might think. 

The Heartland Institute has produced a series of eight short videos, each only 3 to 4 minutes long, that address all the important questions commonly asked about fracking. We are releasing one video a week. Click on the highlighted titles below to view the video for free, or come back next week to view one that hasn’t been released yet.

1. What is Fracking?

2. Benefits of Fracking

3. The Environmental Impact of Fracking

4. Not in My Backyard

5. Fracking and Global Warming

6. Health Effects of Fracking

7. Benefits of Frac Sand Mining

8. Ban Fracking?

What is Fracking?

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” is a technique for extracting oil and natural gas from shale rocks and tight-sandstone reservoirs that has revolutionized energy production in the United States. Combined with new horizontal drilling technology, fracking has made the U.S. the largest producer of natural gas in the world, and use of fracking in North Dakota and Texas has nearly doubled domestic oil production since 2008.

Hydraulic fracturing has made natural gas so abundant, and so affordable, that electricity from natural gas has become competitive, and in many instances, less expensive than generating electricity from coal. As a result, the amount of electricity generated from natural gas exceeded the amount generated by coal in April 2015 for the first time in recorded history.

Mitchell Baer, director of oil and gas analysis for the U.S. Department of Energy, says domestic shale rock formations alone can meet our nation’s natural gas usage for many years at current consumption levels. Shale gas production benefits the regional economies where production takes place, and consumers who benefit from lower energy prices.

The newfound abundance of domestic natural gas reserves promises unprecedented energy prosperity and security. In Pennsylvania alone, shale gas production has generated 90,000 jobs with an average pay of $62,000. Fracking has generated more than $600 million in tax revenues, and fracking has contributed $34 billion to the state’s economy.

Lower energy prices resulting from fracking have led to significant consumer benefits. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average U.S. household saved approximately $675 on gasoline in 2015 compared to 2014 because of lower oil prices. Additionally, a study by the Brookings Institution found low natural gas prices will save families anywhere from $181 to $432 per person, depending on geographic area they live in.

Some environmental activist groups, however, are trying to shut down natural gas production, especially production from shale, arguing environmental harms outweigh the economic benefits.

Shale extraction has proven remarkably safe for the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not found a single instance of drinking water contaminated by hydraulic fracturing. Rock formations containing natural gas are found thousands of feet below groundwater tables and are kept separate from them by impermeable rock layers.

Some minor instances of groundwater pollution have been reported, but these have occurred largely due to leaky well casings and spills of wastewater at the surface, not the hydraulic fracturing process, itself. These instances of contamination are as likely to occur at conventional natural gas production sites as hydraulic fracturing sites. Additionally EPA conducted an extensive study of hydraulic fracturing and found no evidence hydraulic fracturing has led to widespread, or systemic impacts on water quality, and although incidences of contamination have occurred, they are rare compared to the number of wells drilled.

Investigative journalists have debunked sensational falsehoods about hydraulic fracturing. The agenda-driven movie Gasland showed a Colorado resident lighting fire to water running from his kitchen faucet, which the movie blamed on recent hydraulic fracturing nearby. Investigative journalists discovered methane-rich natural gas is so prevalent in the area that residents have been able to light their water on fire since at least the 1930s, long before hydraulic fracturing. If anything, natural gas extraction—through hydraulic fracturing or other methods—is likely to reduce the naturally occurring contamination of regional water.

Our Research

Roadway Impacts of Industrial Silica Sand (Frac Sand) Mining - Policy Study, The Heartland Institute

Economic Impacts of Industrial Silica Sand (Frac Sand) Mining - Policy Study, The Heartland Institute

Environmental Impacts of Industrial Silica Sand (Frac Sand) Mining - Policy Study, The Heartland Institute

EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Report - Research & Commentary, The Heartland Institute

Hydraulic Fracturing - Tip Sheet, The Heartland Institute

New Fracking Regulations for States - The Leaflet, The Heartland Institute

The Fracking Debate - The Leaflet, The Heartland Institute

Hydraulic Fracturing a Game-Changer for U.S. Energy and Economies -  Policy Study, The Heartland Institute

Hydraulic Fracturing in California - Research & Commentary, The Heartland Institute

Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Use - Research & Commentary, The Heartland Institute

Hydraulic Fracturing in Florida - Research & Commentary, The Heartland Institute

Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Moratorium - Research & Commentary, The Heartland Institute

 

Other Research

Fracturing Facts - House Committee on Natural Resources

Fracking, Not Solar Power, Is Reducing U.S. Carbon-Dioxide Emissions - Manhattan Institute

Managing the Risks of Hydraulic Fracturing: An Update  - Fraser Institute

Fracking Facts: The Science, Economics, and Legal Realities - Texas Public Policy Foundation

Fracking and Earthquakes - Independent Women's Forum (IWF)

Frackonomics, The Economics behind America's Shale Revolution - PERC

The Green Side of Fracking - R Street

Fracking, Not Solar Power, Is Reducing U.S. Carbon-Dioxide Emissions - Manhattan Institute

Chemicals in Fracking Fluids - John Locke Foundation

Constraints on Upward Migration of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid and Brine - The Groundwater Association

A Geological Overview of Frac Sand in the United States - US Geological Survey

Wasterwater (Flowback) from Hydraulic Fracturing - Ohio Department of Natural Resources

The Economic Effects of Hydrofracturing on Local Economies: A Comparison of New York and Pennsylvania - Manhattan Institute

 

Opinion

UW-Eau Claire Frac Sand Air Quality Study Is Cloudy with No Chance of Accuracy - Townhall

While Falling Oil Prices Do Hurt Some, Benefits are Widespread - Badger Herald

I'm Thankful for Fracking - Townhall

Lessons Learned About Gas Wells and Quakes - Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The Mick Jagger of Air Sampling Shows Frac Sand Mining Doesn’t Harm Air Quality - Townhall

Fracking Cuts Energy Costs, Raises Living Standards - Heartlander

Fracking, Poverty and the New Liberal Gentry - Wall Street Journal

Fracturing in California - Wall Street Journal

 

Podcasts

Kathleen Sgamma: The Traveling Circus of Anti-Fracking Activists - Nov 25, 2015

Michelle Smith: Show Me the Money! Royalties and Fracking - Nov 2, 2015

Dr. Gil Ross: Newest Fracking Hysteria: Premature Births - Oct 26, 2015

Jessica Sena: Those Fracking Feds Pt. 2 - Oct 20, 2015

Jessica Sena: Those Fracking Feds Pt. 1 - Oct 19, 2015

Holly Bellmund: Proppants and Hydraulic Fracturing - Jul 2, 2015

Mark Mills: Shale 2.0 - Jun 30, 2015

Jessica Sena: Effects of Drilling "Setback" Regulations - Jun 29, 2015

Ron Muhlenkamp: Fracking Actually Produces Water! - Jun 15, 2015

Isaac Orr: EPA Report Finds Fracking Poses No Threat - Jun 1, 2015

Gary Stone: Fracking Revolutionizing the Oil and Gas Industry - Jun 4, 2015

Jessica Sena: Low Oil Prices and Fracking - Jun 2, 2015

Isaac Orr: Fracking Politics and Policy - May 6, 2015

Bette Grande: Fracking and Earthquake Misconceptions - Apr 30, 2015

 

Video

Isaac Orr presents “The Environmental and Economic Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing” at the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change in Washington, DC on June 11, 2015

Mark Mills presents “Shale 2.0 Will End Green Dreams” at the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change in Washington, DC on July 11, 2015.

Jay Lehr, Ph.D., presents “The Future of Fossil Fuels” at the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change in Washington, DC July 11, 2015.