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GSA Critical Issue: Hydraulic Fracturing

Table of Contents


Hydraulic Fracturing Defined

Hydraulic Fracturing’s History
and Role in Energy Development

Potential Environmental Issues
Associated with Hydraulic Fracturing

Water Quality

Water Use

Induced Seismicity

Regulation Issues

Staying Informed



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The hydraulic fracturing critical issue will be periodically updated.

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Water use by sector, 2005

Figure 14:

Estimated Water Use in the United States in 2010; USGS Circ 1405. Water for hydraulic fracturing included in mining category.

Hydraulic fracturing, particularly when applied to horizontal wells, can use 13 million gallons or more water per well, though two to five million gallons is typical [23, 40]. However, the ratio of “water used” to “oil produced” in hydraulically fractured wells in the Eagle Ford Shale, Texas, and Bakken Shale, North Dakota, is on the low end of what is typically used in a conventional, vertical oil well over the life of the well [19]. The study concluded that the higher water use reflects an increase in oil production, and not that hydraulic fracturing uses more water per unit of oil produced than conventional wells. Water used in oil and gas development is relatively small in comparison to other recurring uses (Fig. 14) [23, 42, 45]. However, where drilling rates are high, and particularly in water-poor areas, water use for oil and gas development is significant. The U.S. EPA is studying the current and future potential competition between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water supplies in two basins, one humid (Susquehanna River Basin, Pennsylvania) and one semi-arid (Upper Colorado River Basin, Colorado)[26]. Water needs 30 years out are based on drilling trends, natural gas production, and population growth.

Drilling companies are working on improved methods to recycle water used in hydraulic fracturing, or to use saline water that is unsuitable for drinking [40]. Many energy companies are treating and reusing produced and flowback water; the feasibility depends on economics, and the quantity, quality, and duration of water generated [46]. Some companies are trying water-free, nonflammable propane fracking fluid [47]. However, because of chemical mixing considerations and costs, freshwater continues to be the preferred and primary source of water for hydraulic fracturing in most areas. In December 2015, the Governor of Oklahoma formed a task force to find economic treatment and uses for the produced water [73].


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