Natural Gas: Hydraulic Fracturing

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The Environmental Costs and Benefits of Fracking

This report synthesizes the research from over 100 academic studies and government databases to examine the environmental impacts of unconventional energy extraction and hydraulic fracturing. It describes production estimates and decline curves for oil and gas wells, as well as their water requirements and water intensities. Subsequent sections discuss fracking’s impacts on seismic activity, water contamination, and air quality. The report concludes with a description of various pollutants that are emitted throughout the stages of gas extraction, production, and processing. Recommendations for further research on each of the report’s topics are embedded throughout.

Frack or Fiction

Frack or Fiction offers recommendations to the California Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources on its draft regulation for hydraulic fracturing (fracking) released in December 2012. The report also includes an overview of technological, environmental, and policy issues. California’s Monterey shale formation is estimated to represent 64 percent of recoverable U.S. Shale Oil. Energy Innovation’s Director of Research, Chris Busch, concludes that the draft regulation needs significant improvements if resource development in this region is to be done responsibly.

Potential Contaminant Pathways from Hydraulically Fractured Shale to Aquifers

This article sheds light on some of the potential long-term impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water supplies. Interpretative simulations are used to analyze the pathways through which fluids and contaminants released from shale during fracking can travel to and contaminate water in aquifers. The author estimates that contaminants could rise to the surface through naturally-occurring fractures as well as fracking-induced fractures in less than ten years. The author also points out that there is geological evidence that contaminants travel vertically towards the surface over tens of thousands of years. However, he argues that fracking, especially in areas where there are naturally-occurring shale fractures, could reduce that travel time to tens or hundreds of years, and even to less than 10 years in certain cases.

Environmental Impacts During Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts, and Remedies

This report analyzes the impacts of Pennsylvania’s regulation of hydraulic fracturing of natural gas. The authors examine 2,988 violations from nearly 4,000 natural wells reported to the Department of Environmental Protection between January 2008 and August 2011. Of these violations, 62% were administrative and preventative, while 38% were environmental. The 1,144 environmental violations resulted from 845 separate events, of which 25 were classified as “major” environmental events. The authors find that the percentage of environmental regulations relative to the number of wells drilled fell from 58.2 percent to 30.5 percent between 2008 and 2010, and dropped further to 26.5 percent during 2011. The authors conclude that the regulation of hydraulic fracturing that coincided with the decrease in environmental violations and events has significantly helped mitigate harmful environmental impacts of shale gas drilling.

In Fracking’s Wake: New Rules are Needed to Protect Our Health and Environment from Contaminated Wastewater

This report offers a comprehensive overview of the different contaminants present in wastewater generated during the hydraulic fracturing process. It also presents the environmental impacts of each contaminant, and discusses current regulation relevant to wastewater management. Finally, the report gives policy recommendations regarding the following methods and aspects of wastewater management: (1) treatment and discharge to water bodies, (2) handling, storage, and transport prior to disposal, (3) underground injection, (4) reuse for additional hydraulic fracturing, (5) using impoundments and tanks for storage and disposal, (6) land application, and (7) safe disposal of residual waste derived from the treatment of wastewater.

Shale Gas: New Opportunities, New Challenges

This report gives an overview of the benefits of developing the newly-discovered natural gas reserves in the United States, but also lays out the environmental challenges associated with increased natural gas extraction. Among these challenges are potential contamination of drinking water with methane or fracturing fluids, the heavy use of water for fracking and potential impacts on areas where the water supply is limited, the improper management and disposal of fracturing fluids and produced water, general emissions and disruption at shale gas production sites, air quality impacts, and methane leakage. The report calls for state and federal regulation to mitigate these environmental impacts, and provides an overview of regulations that have been implemented and proposed, but does not provide any specific regulatory guidelines.

Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas

This report reviews the air, water and land damages that can be caused by extraction of natural gas from unconventional sources, like natural gas trapped in shale rock formations. Tapping these unconventional resources has a much larger environmental footprint than conventional natural gas production. The report develops “Golden Rules” for minimizing the environmental damages that will accompany unconventional natural gas development. The report also explores the idea that too little reliance on natural gas could also be environmentally costly. Their “low unconventional natural gas” scenario results in greenhouse gas emissions that are 1.2% higher than in the “Golden Rules” scenario. At the same time, under the conditions required by their Golden Rules, the IEA forecasts that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases would continue to climb steadily and stabilize at 650 ppm (carbon dioxide equivalent), far above the levels needed to have a meaningful chance of avoiding dangerous climate change. So, while the report offers well-conceived guidelines on how to minimize many environmental and public health risks, it does not provide a comprehensive vision on how greater unconventional natural gas development can be part of a truly sustainable and environmentally-responsible energy strategy.

Shale Gas Production Subcommittee Second Ninety Day Report

This report by the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board presents 20 policy recommendations for the regulation of natural gas production. It divides the recommendations into (1) those ready for implementation by federal agencies, (2) those ready for implementation by states, and (3) those that require new partnerships and mechanisms for success.

Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-Well Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing

This article finds systematic evidence that drinking water in aquifers lying above the Marcellus and Utica shale formations has been contaminated with methane associated with shale-gas extraction. It concludes that there is a need for more research on pathways of methane contamination and on the potential health impacts of methane. The authors also advocate for improved monitoring of groundwater quality near natural gas extraction sites.

Research and Policy Recommendations for Hydraulic Fracturing and Shale-Gas Extraction

This report presents an overview of some of the potential environmental impacts of natural gas, and sets forth several broad policy guidelines for safer extraction of natural gas. The guidelines relate to (1) better-coordinated, and sustained scientific study, (2) a review of the potential health consequences of methane and other hydrocarbons in drinking water, (3) industry-driven approaches to develop safer and more consistent extraction technologies, and (4) consideration of stronger state or federal regulation. The report specifically focuses on several research recommendations, and two policy recommendations. The first policy recommendation is to consider regulating fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Underground Injection Control Program. The second recommendation is to require full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

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