Hydraulic fracturing is a government-regulated technology used safely for more than 60 years to recover tight oil and natural gas that is trapped in deep underground rock. After a well has been drilled, a mixture of mainly water and sand, and a small amount of additives, is injected into the well at high pressure to create tiny, finger-like fractures in the rock. The fractures are propped open by the grains of sand so that the oil or natural gas can flow to the surface. The additives limit bacterial growth or prevent corrosion. Alberta regulations require producers to disclose publicly the additives used in hydraulic fracturing on a well-by-well basis, which can be found on: www.fracfocus.ca.
About 12 million cubic metres of water was used to hydraulically fracture 3,396 wells in Alberta in 2014 and much was sourced from surface water and fresh groundwater. The remainder of the water used was from alternative sources such as saline groundwater, flowback, produced water, and municipal wastewater. To put water used in oil and natural gas development into perspective, AER data shows that water allocated for hydraulic fracturing is very small compared to the total amount of water allocated each year to other sectors.