Hydraulic fracturing, sometimes referred to as “fracking,” is among the largest and most influential trends in the global energy sector today. By injecting highly pressurized fluid into underground formations containing oil and natural gas, hydraulic fracturing makes it possible to exploit fossil fuel reserves that were previously too expensive or too difficult to reach with more traditional extraction techniques. Following are some of the most important statistics and facts regarding the impact of the fracking boom on the domestic and global energy sector.
General Statistics on Hydraulic Fracturing in the United States
Although its widespread use is still a relatively new development, hydraulic fracturing has already grown into a massive component of the overall energy landscape in the United States. According to the US Energy Information Administration, hydraulic fracturing from tight oil reserves accounted for the production of 6.44 million barrels of crude oil per day in 2018, or 59 percent of total American production. As of 2015, fracking operations in the United States also produced some 53 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day, accounting for more than two-thirds of total domestic production.
As hydraulic fracturing has grown to account for a progressively larger share of US fossil fuel production, the number of hydraulically fractured wells has also increased dramatically. In 2000, the United States was home to just 276,000 natural gas wells, of which only 26,000 utilized hydraulic fracturing. By 2015, however, there were approximately 300,000 hydraulically fractured wells alone, more than the total number of gas wells just 15 years earlier.
Due to oil and natural gas distribution, different regions of the United States have seen various levels of impact from hydraulic fracturing. The Marcellus Shale, a large formation that includes parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia, had reached 14.4 billion cubic feet of gas production per day by 2015 despite being severely underutilized just a few years earlier. The use of hydraulic fracturing has even been shown to allow for enhanced extraction in previously exploited formations, as in the case of the Permian Basin in the American Southwest. Following a decline after reaching its peak in the 1970s, production from the Permian Basin accelerated to supply roughly 20 percent of all US crude oil in 2017. Fracking has also been used to great effect in exploiting previously unusable reserves in the Great Plains and Great Lakes regions of the United States.
Potential for International Energy Development
The United States is far from the only country in which hydraulic fracturing shows promise as an energy extraction technique. Indeed, shale oil reserves in Russia total 75 billion barrels to America’s 58 billion, while America’s 665 trillion cubic foot shale gas reserves are exceeded by China, Argentina and Algeria with 1,115, 802 and 707 trillion cubic feet of known reserves, respectively. Worldwide, fracking is expected to open up approximately 140 billion barrels of oil that was previously inaccessible.
Alongside the United States, Canada has made robust use of fracking in its domestic energy sector. Roughly 80 percent of new wells in Canada utilize hydraulic fracturing, and the technology has been in limited use for Canadian extraction for over 60 years. Like America, Canada has seen a rapid explosion in the technique’s use in recent years.
There can be no doubt that hydraulic fracturing has become a massive economic force in the energy sector. Globally, the hydraulic fracturing market is on track to reach a total value of $68 billion by 2024. The driving growth force in the market will likely be expansion of natural gas extraction, which is expected to increase to a global market value of $48.7 billion from its current $39.7 billion over the next five years.
Because the United States accounts for an overwhelming majority of hydraulic fracturing activity worldwide, it has also produced the most concrete statistics regarding the broader economic benefits of fracking. According to a 2016 study produced by the US Chamber of Commerce, the growth made possible by lower fuel prices and energy investment has added approximately $548 billion to the total GDP of the United States. Greater fuel availability has also substantially reduced consumer energy prices. Without the developments of the fracking boom, electricity would cost roughly 31 percent more, while motor fuels would be priced 43 percent higher than they are currently.
Needless to say, the economic growth made possible by fracking has also produced a vast number of new jobs in multiple sectors of the economy. The same Chamber of Commerce study referenced above also credits the hydraulic fracturing boom with the creation of some 4.3 million domestic jobs. The direct creation of fracking jobs in the energy sector accounts for only a portion of the overall employment impact, but has still been substantial. Between 2005 and 2012 alone, fracking is believed to have directly created approximately 725,000 new positions, an employment boost that helped to mitigate the effects of the 2008 financial crisis.
Perhaps the most striking testament to the economic impact of the fracking boom is the fact that it allowed the United States to more than double its total oil production over the course of just 10 years, pushing America once again to the position of top global oil producer. As of 2018, American oil production topped 11 million barrels per day, eclipsing Russian output and making the United States the number one producer of oil for the first time since 1973. The momentum of the fracking boom is even expected to push US oil exports to 9 million barrels per day by 2024, allowing the United States to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest exporter of crude oil.
Environmental Impacts of Fracking
As the fracking boom has progressed, concerns have been raised about the environmental and safety impacts of the extraction method. In March of 2018, an opinion poll found that 55 percent of respondents believed the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing to outweigh its economic advantages. The data, however, paint a somewhat more nuanced picture.
While the burning of oil is without doubt a leading driver of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s important to keep in mind that fracking has spurred extraction of natural gas as well. Natural gas produces far fewer emissions per unit of energy yield than any other fossil fuel, making it a greener alternative to other traditional fuel sources. Per million British thermal units of energy yield, natural gas produces about 117 pounds of carbon dioxide, compared with 228.6 pounds for anthracite coal, 161.3 pounds for diesel fuel and 157.2 pounds for gasoline.
This difference in emissions is particularly important in the power generation industry. Natural gas power plants produce emissions at a rate up to 60 percent lower than coal-fired plants. Between 2000 and 2017, a period in which fracking drastically increased the available domestic supply of natural gas, coal plants dropped from 51 percent of the US power generation market to just 30 percent, while market share of more efficient natural gas plants rose from 16 percent to 32 percent.
This is not to say that the greater availability of fossil fuels from hydraulic fracturing doesn’t present some credible environmental risks. All fossil fuel combustion produces carbon dioxide, and even the extraction of natural gas can result in atmospheric leakage of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas. Natural gas is, however, often seen as a useful bridge fuel between more emission-heavy fossil fuels and renewable energy options.