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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

Triggered or Induced Seismicity

Regulation Issues

Staying Informed



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The hydraulic fracturing critical issue will be periodically updated.

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Proved U.S. reserves of crude oil and natural gas Figure 2:

Proved U.S. reserves of crude oil and natural gas by December 2013 increased by 9.3% and 9.7% respectively over the previous year, driven primarily by shale and other unconventional sources. From: EIA, December 4, 2014.

Click on images to enlarge.

Percentage of U.S. Oil and Gas from Tight Oil and Shale Gas, 2005 - 2040. Figure 3:

Percentage of U.S. Oil and Gas from Tight Oil and Shale Gas, 2005 - 2040. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2014. Note: The EIA began reporting tight oil and shale gas data in 2007.

Unconventional Shale Plays in the Lower 48 States Figure 4:

Unconventional Shale Plays in the Lower 48 States (with federal lands shown); From: Ratner and Tiemann, November 21, 2014, Congressional Research Service; An Overview of Unconventional Oil and Natural Gas: Resources and Federal Actions. Note: federal land coverage is over-generalized in this image.

In many cases it is unclear whether concerns raised relate specifically to hydraulic fracturing, or more generally to the development of unconventional petroleum resources, or to other aspects related to all oil and gas development. While many of these concerns relate to policy, economics, and social areas that are outside the scope of this paper, the geoscience community is well suited to address some of the technical questions being asked.

The Geological Society of America does not have a position statement on hydraulic fracturing. This critical issue paper is written as a primer for the general public, journalists, and even resource professionals who may have difficulty finding objective, credible information about hydraulic fracturing of shales and other unconventional sources and related environmental concerns. This primer is also intended to furnish members of the Geological Society of America with a concise, clear, non-technical discussion of the process and the issue, and as a reference that they can provide to non-geologists to inform conversations on the topic.

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