Myths and Facts
Myth: Hydraulic fracturing is unregulated
Fact: It is highly regulated under local, state and federal laws. Before a well is drilled, operators must obtain regulator-approved permits related to well design, location, spacing, operation, and abandonment. Environmental permits are also required for water management and disposal, waste management and disposal, air emissions control, underground injection integrity, wildlife impact mitigation, surface disturbance mitigation, and worker health and safety protections. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Underground Injection Control (UIC) program was developed for long term, high volume injection of brines and other fluids associated with hydrocarbon production and was not designed to apply to short duration hydraulic fracturing activities. In 2005, Congress amended the SDWA to affirm the scope of the UIC program. Only hydraulic fracturing jobs that use diesel as a constituent are regulated under the SDWA.
Myth: Hydraulic fracturing is a new technology
Fact: Hydraulic fracturing was first used commercially for well stimulation in 1949. In the 60-plus years since hydraulic fracturing was first used, not one documented case of groundwater contamination in the U.S. has been shown to have been caused by hydraulic fracturing. According to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission around 90% of oil and natural gas wells drilled in the United States are hydraulically fractured to enhance production.
Myth: Hydraulic fracturing contaminates drinking water
Fact: Hydraulic fracturing has been performed in more than 2 million applications since the late 1940s and there has not been one single confirmed case of water contamination related to hydraulic fracturing, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)1.
Myth: Hydraulic fracturing is a method to drill a well
Fact: Hydraulic fracturing is used to improve the mobility of hydrocarbons trapped in dense rock formations and is not a method for drilling the well. It is a completion technique that is used only after drilling operations are finished, the well’s integrity is confirmed, and drilling equipment has been removed from the well pad.
Myth: Hydraulic fracturing fluids are dangerous
Fact: The majority of fracturing fluid is composed of water and sand (proppant). Small amounts of chemicals (typically 0.5 percent) are added to reduce fluid friction, kill bacteria that are present in the formation and enhance the fluid's ability to transport the propping (sand) agent. These additives used in fracturing fluids are chemicals commonly encountered in everyday life – in consumer products such as toothpaste, ice cream, cosmetics, household cleaners, table salt substitutes and deodorant - and are safe when properly handled and used appropriately. Fracturing fluids are tailored to meet the specific needs of each well environment. Geologic and reservoir characteristics such as mineralogy, rock strength, permeability, reservoir fluid composition, pressure, and temperature are just a few of the factors considered in selecting an appropriate fracturing fluid.
Myth: Hydraulic fracturing chemicals are not disclosed to the public
Fact: More than 90 percent of total onshore rigs are drilling in states that require disclosure including Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming. Even when not required by law, ConocoPhillips supports disclosure of the chemical ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing fluids in a way that informs the public and protects proprietary industry information. In the U.S. we are participating in the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission's (IOGCC) voluntary chemical disclosure website, FracFocus.org. This landmark web-based national registry was launched in April 2011 and has been praised for providing information about chemicals used to fracture oil and natural gas resources on a well-by-well basis2.
Myth: Fractures grow thousands of feet upward into freshwater aquifers.
Fact:Fractures do not extend upwards thousands of feet into aquifers. Thousands of fractures have been measured in the Barnett and Marcellus Shale to determine their upward reach. While most fractures extended several hundred feet up from the horizontal portion of the well, the distances between the fractures’ highest points and the deepest aquifers were still thousands of feet apart.
Myth: Hydraulic fracturing requires extensive amounts of fresh water
Fact: Hydraulic fracturing treatments typically require a one-time use of between two and five million gallons of water per horizontal well, the equivalent amount of water typically consumed by 24 households in one year. However the same well produces enough natural gas to heat 30,000 homes for one year.
Myth: Hydraulic fracturing causes earthquakes
Fact: It would be extremely rare for hydraulic fracturing to trigger a seismic event that could be felt at the earth's surface. Hydraulic fracturing stimulation typically releases energy that would equate to a magnitude minus 2 or less on the logarithmic Richter scale, which cannot be detected at the surface. To put this in context, a magnitude plus 3 earthquake feels like the rumbling of a passing 18-wheel truck3.
Myth: Hydraulic fracturing pollutes the local environment, emitting methane and volatile organic compounds including carcinogens into the air
Fact: Oil and natural gas operators are required to comply with emission regulations set by the EPA under the authority of the Clean Air Act. ConocoPhillips is a charter member of the EPA Natural Gas Star Program, a voluntary partnership that encourages producers to reduce methane emissions.
1 Carl Montgomery and Michael Smith, “Hydraulic Fracturing, History of an Enduring Technology”, Journal of Petroleum Technology, December 2010
3 United States Geological Survey, Magnitude/Intensity Comparison, http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/mag_vs_int.php (January 19, 2012)