What is fracking?

NW Natural is a local gas distribution company. We buy natural gas for our customers and deliver it through our pipeline system in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

We care about the environmental impact of the product we sell, and we know our customers do, too. So we want to pass on to you what we know about shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing, a practice referred to as “fracking.”

Fundamentally:

  • We believe shale development, including hydraulic fracturing, can - and is - being done safely and in an environmentally sound way.
  • But we know that not every driller uses best practices, and this must change.
  • Research continues on the environmental impacts of shale gas production. If the scientific and regulatory communities believe more regulation is necessary to protect the environment, NW Natural will be completely supportive.

Hydraulic Fracturing and Shale Gas Development

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses water, sand and small amounts of chemical additives to free up oil and natural gas from dense rock formations. More than 1 million wells in the United States have been drilled with fracking, a process that started in the 1940s.

Only recently has the industry combined fracking with a process called horizontal drilling. Horizontal drilling, like hydraulic fracturing, is a common construction technique.

When combined with hydraulic fracturing, the drilling team uses a horizontal drill to bore parallel to the earth’s surface, thousands of feet below the water table. Water, under high pressure, fractures the rock, releasing trapped gas.

Combining these two technologies has allowed large scale development of shale gas for the first time. This breakthrough came just when it seemed that this nation didn’t have enough gas supplies to economically meet its energy needs. So the potential for low-cost shale gas inspired a substantial growth in gas production.

Fracking has drawn new attention because:

  • Drilling is taking place in areas without a long history of gas exploration. So it’s affecting new communities.
  • Some states lacked both adequate regulations and enough regulators to oversee the new activity.

Over the last five years, the rush to bring more gas supplies to the U.S. has brought to light potential environmental problems and focused attention on the natural gas industry. During that time, natural gas suppliers, state governments and federal regulators have made significant strides in addressing the impacts of shale gas development.

In 2013, group of industry and environmental group representatives based in Pittsburgh have created the Center for Sustainable Shale Development to encourage best practices among gas producers operating in the Marcellus Shale. They have established 15 voluntary shale-development standards as the basis for a certification program.

Late in 2014, the group issued its first certification, stating that Chevron Appalachia LLC met voluntary standards that exceeded federal and state regulations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The CSSD is an example of cooperative ways to ensure environmentally sound practices – beyond those required by law – among gas producers.

The following pages in this section discuss the potential impacts of shale gas development on the environment and review ways to prevent environmental damage.

NW Natural has not performed its own scientific or economic research on the impacts of fracking or gas production practices. The information in this section is derived from publicly available reports, studies and periodicals.