Interactive: Mapping the Shale Gas Boom | Innovation | Smithsonian
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Interactive map courtesy of ESRI. Text by Josie Garthwaite.

Interactive: Mapping the Shale Gas Boom

Where in the United States is fracking unlocking natural gas from shale rock?


The above map tracks shale gas boom in the United States. Click around the map to see where energy companies are using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to force tightly trapped oil and gas from the fine-grained sedimentary rocks known as shale. You can explore which states are leading production, which companies are involved, and zoom in to see wells in a local area. For each state, data shows production rates since 2009.

Rapidly increasing production from shales has transformed the world's energy landscape in recent years. For better or worse, it is a combination of relatively high oil prices and technology that have paved the way—primarily horizontal drilling and fracking, but also advances in 3D seismic imaging, sensors, and other innovations. 

These innovations are not without controversy. Fracking a single well may involve millions of gallons of fluid, which has numerous opportunities to leak or spill into sensitive habitats and water supplies before, during and after the actual fracturing takes place. Injecting these large amounts of fluid underground can also trigger earthquakes.

The types of hydrocarbons targeted at different wells depends on the particular mix of crude oil, natural gas, natural gas liquids such as ethane (used to make plastics) and propane, and other resources present in the shale, as well as relative fuel prices. Natural gas offers the benefit of producing less carbon dioxide than coal or oil, but a question mark looms over its advantage from a climate perspective. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas and the main component of natural gas, is known to leak throughout natural gas operations, although the precise amount remains uncertain.

Nationally, an estimated 40 percent of natural gas produced last year came from shales. According to the latest estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nearly a third of all natural gas resources globally are believed to exist in shale formations. Although considerable uncertainty surrounds just how much natural gas can and will be recovered from shale formations, it's possible the boom has legs. The EIA expects shale gas production to more than double by 2040. 

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