Policy Documents

Hydraulic Fracturing a Game-Changer for U.S. Energy and Economies

Isaac Orr
November 18, 2013

Vast reserves of oil and natural gas have been known to exist in shale formations throughout the United States for decades, but extracting these resources was not economically viable until the advent of “smart drilling” technology – the combination of horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing techniques, and computer-assisted underground monitoring. Fracking has transformed the way oil and natural gas are produced in the U.S.

The dramatic success of fracking has attracted the attention of environmental groups, who have raised concerns about the impact this new technique could have on the environment, including concerns about groundwater contamination, water consumption, wastewater disposal, earthquakes, and greenhouse gas emissions. They are taking advantage of the public’s limited understanding of the smart drilling process, limited knowledge of geology, and lack of knowledge of current federal and state regulations on oil and gas production.

In “Hydraulic Fracturing: A Game-Changer for Energy and Economies,” a new Policy Study from The Heartland Institute, Heartland Research Fellow Isaac Orr explains the advantages and disadvantages of smart drilling and the alternatives so that a better-informed discussion takes place.

“Despite the misleading theatrics seen in the movie Gasland,” Orr writes, “there has yet to be a confirmed case of hydraulic fracturing contaminating drinking water. There are consequences and risks associated with the production of unconventional oil and natural gas, but the costs are vastly outweighed by the benefits.”

For policymakers and those they represent, Orr reviews the background and potential of hydraulic fracturing in the United States and then puts that potential in the context of the supply of and demand for oil and gas. He addresses the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, both positive and negative, as well as public safety issues that have been raised by activists, such as potential harm to drinking water supplies. And he discusses how oil and gas production is regulated at the state and national levels and discusses the proper interaction of these two levels of government.

“Hydraulic fracturing can be done in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” Orr concludes. “State governments have done a commendable job working with environmental and industry leaders to craft legislation that protects the environment while permitting oil and gas production to move forward. Federal regulations would be duplicative, resulting in higher costs without significantly increasing environmental protections.”