How Hydraulic Fracturing Works

How Hydraulic Fracturing Works

See how hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, releases petroleum or natural gas trapped in shale rock formations.


5 - 12


Earth Science, Geology, Engineering, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography

The video above is from the March 2013 iPad edition of National Geographic magazine. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a drilling method used to extract petroleum (oil) or natural gas from deep in the planet. In the fracking process, cracks in and below Earth's surface are opened and widened by injecting water, chemicals, and sand at high pressure. Some resources extracted through fracking are called “tight oil” or “tight gas,” because these pockets of fossil fuels are tightly trapped in hard shale rock formations. By accessing tight oil and tight gas, the sophisticated technologies used in fracking are rapidly expanding petroleum and natural gas production in the United States. This video explains the technology of fracking using the example of the Iverson oil well, which drills into the Bakken shale formation near the U.S. city of Williston, North Dakota.

Fast Fact

  • One of the first places hydraulic fracturing technology was used was the Barnett shale formation in northern Texas.

Fast Fact

Fracking in Appalachia

Fracking is used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation in the northern Appalachian Basin, extending through the U.S. states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia.

Fast Fact

Bakken Shale Boom

One of the most active sites of fracking for oil is the Bakken shale formation, stretching from the western part of the U.S. state of North Dakota and the state of Montana through the southern part of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Fast Fact

Fracking Around the World

  • A handful of other nations are investing in hydraulic fracturing to extract petroleum and natural gas.
  • Fracking is used to extract natural gas from the Montney shale formation in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.
  • Fracking is used to extract natural gas from the Sichuan basin in China.
  • Fracking is used to extract petroleum from the Taranaki shale formation in New Zealand.
Media Credits

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National Geographic Society
Samantha Zuhlke, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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