Shale Gas: Hydraulic Fracturing and Environmental Concerns

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  • 0:07 Shale
  • 1:14 Hydraulic Fracturing
  • 2:41 Environmental Concerns
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Shale gas is a type of natural gas that is found trapped within sedimentary rock. It is extracted using a procedure called hydraulic fracturing. In this lesson, you will learn about hydraulic fracturing and the environmental concerns raised by use of this extraction technique.


Millions of years ago, even before the dinosaurs roamed the earth, plants and other living organisms died, and the remains were buried under multiple layers of sand, rock and mud. With the passage of time, this organic matter transformed into fossil fuels, and became the major energy sources that we use every day, known as oil and natural gas.

To bring oil and natural gas to the surface where it can be used, man invented drilling techniques. When drilling first began, the fuel could be found in reservoirs within porous rock formations, and it was easily extracted.

However, many of these easy-to-reach conventional deposits have already been depleted, so petroleum geologists had to look for unconventional deposits of oil and gas, and they found them in some pretty interesting locations. One place natural gas has been found is trapped within sedimentary rock formations, known as shale. In this lesson, we will look at the unique way natural gas is extracted from shale rock and the environmental concerns associated with it.

Hydraulic Fracturing

Shale gas is a natural gas produced from shale. There are high hopes for shale gas, and some scientists expect it to greatly increase the world's supply of natural gas. However, shale gas is not found in big bubbles under the earth that can be easily tapped into and extracted.

Instead, gas is dispersed throughout the shale rock formation. Because it is found within the rock, a special extraction method must be used, known as hydraulic fracturing. You can recall this term by remembering that the word 'hydraulic' refers to the use of water or other fluid under pressure, and 'fracturing' refers to breaking apart. So we see that hydraulic fracturing is the process of breaking apart rock formations by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals. This process is sometimes referred to as 'hydrofracking,' or simply 'fracking,' and using it allows the shale gas to be released, so it can be collected and brought to the surface.

Hydraulic fracturing requires the injection of hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. A single procedure can consume more than 500,000 gallons of water, which is almost enough water to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool. Because most wells are subject to multiple treatments, hydraulic fracturing can use up several million gallons of water, and this has led to some environmental concerns.

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