What is fracking? How does fracking work? What is in fracking fluid? Get the facts on fracking in Colorado – from our stringent regulations to how it powers our economy and supports our communities.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, first invented in 1947, is the process of extracting oil or natural gas from rock formations through drilling – today, using a technique known as horizontal drilling – and then using high pressured water to move the natural gas or oil to the surface where it is collected.

[Fracking] has been around for almost 70 years now, and has been employed well over a million times in this country since it was first successfully used in Kansas in 1947.

—Forbes (2016)


What is horizontal drilling?

Horizontal drilling is a drilling process in which a well is first drilled vertically and then the drill bit turns at an angle and continues horizontally in a lateral direction into shale rock up to a mile underground. A horizontal well resembles an exaggerated letter J. In comparison, a vertical well resembles an I, providing only a single point from one well. A horizontal well is able to reach a much wider area of shale rock underground with less disturbance at the surface.


Here’s how the fracking process works:

Fracking wells are often drilled down more than a mile (2500-3000 meters), far below the water table, and lined with layers of cement and steel to protect the surrounding land. Then, the well is thoroughly tested according to Colorado state law to ensure everything is ready for production.

Once the well is ready, fracking fluid, a special mixture of 99.5% water and sand, and 0.5% chemicals – many of which are found in everyday household items – is pumped at high pressure through perforating holes to create paper-thin cracks in shale rock, freeing the oil and natural gas trapped inside.

Fracking fluid is 99.5% water and sand. 0.5% is made up of safe chemical additives, most of which are found in common household products.

The fracking process uses anywhere from 1.5 million gallons to 16 million gallons of water per well. Overall, fracking accounts for less than 0.1% of total water usage in Colorado.

Less than one-tenth of one percent of the water used in Colorado goes toward fracking. As you can imagine, a lot of other industrial sectors use much more. In fact, according to Colorado State University, agriculture accounts for over 85% of our state’s water use. Bottom line, fracking’s water impact in Colorado is a drop in the bucket.

The Colorado Energy and Carbon Management Commission (ECMC) rules require that “operators publicly disclose the ingredients and concentrations of fracturing chemicals for each well.” In fact, Colorado was the first state to require that producers disclose all chemicals—including their concentrations—to state regulators including the Colorado Energy and Carbon Management Commission.

After fracking is complete, Colorado law also requires that the well is permanently plugged, and the land is returned to the way it was before the drilling operations started. The land can then be used for other activities and there is no sign that a well was once there.

Learn more about the seven steps of oil and natural gas extraction here.

Over 95% of the wells in the U.S. are fracked at some point during their lifetime. It’s a common, responsible way to access the natural resources which have become a bedrock of Colorado’s thriving state economy.

Colorado sits on the energy-rich Niobrara – one of the largest shale formations in the world. Extracting natural gas from this shale formation has powered Colorado’s economy and supported our communities for over 70 years and will continue to for decades to come.

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