How Does Hydraulic Fracturing Work?

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This video was excerpted from After the Frack by Mary Fecteau.

Even though it has been in use for more than 60 years, hydraulic fracturing is still considered a relatively new drilling technology. Engineering advances such as horizontal boring, perforation, and fracturing have made underground shale gas and oil reserves more accessible than ever before. But in nearly all instances of fracking, well shafts must be bored down through layers of groundwater and underground aquifers, parts of a natural system that allows water to cycle through the lithosphere and hydrosphere.

This video is part of a five-part educational series called Challenges of Non-Renewable Energy.

Pre-viewing Questions

  • What is meant by the phrase “domestic energy supply”?
  • What are some of the techniques currently used to obtain energy from coal, oil, or natural gas?
  • Why can't the same sources of energy be used in all areas of the United States?

Focus Questions for Viewing

  • What precautions do fracking companies take to ensure that wells protect freshwater supplies and other natural resources?
  • What other natural resources are needed to fracture shale layers?
  • What additional materials come to the surface with the brine water and natural gas?
  • Why might these materials be of concern to people or other organisms?

Post-viewing Questions

  • What are some of the issues that might need to be addressed after a shale bed is successfully fracked?
  • What current practice of waste disposal was demonstrated in the video segment?
  • This story is incomplete. It tells about the practice of fracking, but not about what happens afterward. List and explain one benefit and one challenge that you think occur as a result of fracking.

Extension Activity

  • Using words, diagrams, or graphic organizers, explain how the story of hydraulic fracturing portrayed in the video demonstrates the disciplinary core idea, "Humans depend on Earth's land, ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere for many different resources. Minerals, freshwater, and biosphere resources are limited and may not be replaceable.”

Links to Learn More

  • U.S. Shale Gas Plays , U.S. Energy Information Administration: Use the resources from the EIA to see how and where shale gas is used in the United States.
  • The Science Behind Hydraulic Fracturing, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Learn what the EPA considers to be some of the critical issues around hydraulic fracturing.
  • Advancements In Drilling Technology, Hobart King, Learn more about the science of horizontal and directional drilling, and how these technologies support EPA recommendations and protect other natural resources.

NGSS Correlations


Performance Expectation: Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth’s materials and the flow of energy that drives this process. MS-ESS3-1

Disciplinary Core Idea: Humans depend on Earth’s land, ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere for many different resources. Minerals, freshwater, and biosphere resources are limited, and many are not renewable or replaceable over human lifetimes. These resources are distributed unevenly around the planet as a result of past geologic processes. ESS3.A Natural Resources

Crosscutting Concepts: Cause and effect

Science and Engineering Practices: Constructing explanations and designing solutions