How Long Has Hydrofracking Been Practiced?

 Hydraulic Fracturing is not a new process. The concept dates as far back as the 1860s when nitroglycerin was used to enhance production from hard rock oil wells in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and other Appalachian states. A book published by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1910 cites use of the technique in 1903 by mining companies1.

Hydrofracking was first used by the natural gas industry in 1947, when the Stanolind Oil and Gas Corporation experimented with the technique in the Hugoton field in Kansas. The following year, the Haliburton Oil Well Cementing Company received a patent for the “hydrafrac” process which they first used in March 1949 on wells in Texas and Oklahoma2.

Since that time, the use of hydrofracking has increased dramatically. Today, thousands of natural gas wells use hydrofracking technology. The United States Energy Information Administration estimated that in 2009, shale gas made up 14% of the total U.S. natural gas supply and was expected to increase to 45% by 2035.3

The technology of hydrofracturing has also increased in complexity. Early wells were only a few hundred feet deep. Applications of the fracking technique consisted of using gelled crude oil and kerosene as the fluid injected into wells to force the fracturing. Screened river sand became popularly used as the “proppant,” or material used to hold open the fractures. Quantities of the materials used were small, consisting of approximately 750 gallons of fluid and 400 pounds of proppant2.

In comparison, today, Chesapeake Energy, a company active in the Marcellus Shale, reports that an average well is now 5,300 feet deep4. Drilling a typical well now uses between 65,000 and 600,000 gallons of water, and the ensuing fracking operation requires an average of 4.5 million gallons of fluids and hundreds of thousands of pounds of sand5.  


1.      Watson, T.L. Granites of the Southeastern United States. Pages 150-151. United States Geological Survey Bulletin 426. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1910. 

 2.      Montgomery, Carl T.; Smith, Michael B. (December 2010) “Hydraulic Fracturing: History of an Enduring Technology.” Journal of Petroleum Technology (Society of Petroleum Engineers) 62 (12): 26-32.

 3.      United States Energy Information Administration: Annual Energy Outlook 2011 With Projections to 2035. [Early Release Overview, December 16, 2010. Report Number DOE/EIA-0383ER(2011)]

4.      Chesapeake Energy Company. 2011. Marcellus Shale Fact Sheet . Chesapeake Energy Company website.  Accessed on March 14, 2011

5.      Chesapeake Energy Company. 2011. Hydraulic Fracturing. Chesapeake Energy company website.   Accessed on March 14, 2011

Primary Author: David Hines ---- Posted: 15 March 2011 ---- Version: Original

Suggested citation style: Hines, D. 2011. How long has hydrofracking been practiced? Institute for Energy and Environmental Research of Northeastern Pennsylvania Clearinghouse website. Posted 15 March 2011.