Fast facts on hydraulic fracturing

  • Hydraulic fracturing in Australia uses an average of 20 to 30 megalitres (ML) of water per fracked horizontal well. With an Olympic-sized swimming pool generally holding 2.5 ML of water, this equates to approximately eight to 12 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water used during the life of the fracked horizontal well. In terms of measuring water use for hydraulic fracturing against other industrial uses, a US study by Duke University found that the water used in fracking made up less than 1% of total industrial water use nationwide in the United States during 2005 to 2014.

  • Following the completion of a fracking stage, between 20% and 70% of fracking fluid is recovered. The recovered fluid has the potential to be recycled for use in future operations, which would reduce the overall need to use water from Territory water sources.

  • Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting fluid at high pressure into targeted sections of the layers of gas-bearing rocks. This creates localised networks of fractures that unlock gas and allow it to flow into the well and up to the surface. The fluid is a mix of approximately 99.5% water/sand and 0.5% chemical additives.

  • Geologists can locate potential shale gas resources through surface geology maps, seismic interpretation and magnetic data.

  • Hydraulic fracturing has been used around the world since 1949. The process has been used in oil and gas for more than 65 years in more than two million wells around the world with no systemic issues identified as a result.

  • The shale rocks targeted for hydraulic fracturing in the Northern Territory are 2-5km underground, whereas the aquifers containing potable water used for drinking and by industry are generally within 300 metres of the surface. So more than 1.5km of barrier rock separates fracture zones from useable water aquifers.

  • With horizontal drilling, multiple wells can be drilled from the same drilling pad which reduces the overall footprint on the land.

  • The area used for a well pad during production would be slightly larger than the area covered by Darwin’s TIO Stadium main oval.

  • Most of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are found in familiar household products and food additives. Wells are designed and constructed to provide multiple barriers against environmental exposure to well fluids or gases. This results in most wells being constructed with multiple steel pipes or casings which are then partially or fully sealed in cement. Well construction will be regulated through Codes of Practice created to provide assurances around well integrity (as per recommendation 7.11).

  • The Code of Practice is a document that outlines what is expected throughout any petroleum exploration. The Code and other guidance materials will underpin industry’s requirements. Such as, how methane emissions will be minimised, how well integrity will be maintained, how wastes must be managed and mandatory requirements for minimising surface disturbance.

  • The Code of Practice has been drafted to clearly define the standards and requirements for petroleum company operations. A number of the recommendations from the Inquiry are addressed through the Code.

  • The Code of Practice have been developed by technical working groups of Northern Territory Government, regulatory inspectors and engineers and scientific experts.

  • The requirement for the Code of Practice to be enforceable has been implemented through the Petroleum Act 1984, and the Code will be adopted under the Petroleum (Environment) Regulations 2016. Environment Management Plans will also have to be developed in accordance with the Code.

  • Petroleum companies will be required under the Code to develop and implement well integrity management systems and plans, adopt international standards that reduce the risk of upstream methane emissions during exploration and production, and consult with government, landholders, land councils, local government and local communities around setback distances from community infrastructure.