Research & Commentary: Debunking Four Persistent Myths about Fracking

Published October 23, 2018

A new Heartland Institute Policy Brief outlines the basic elements of the fracking process and refutes four widespread fracking myths.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” is the process of extracting natural gas and oil situated several miles beneath the Earth’s surface. Over the past decade, fracking has increased the output of these two vital energy sources by 40 percent and 85 percent, respectively. Furthermore, the fracking industry supports nearly three million U.S. jobs. Thanks to fracking, energy prices have dropped dramatically. Consequently, consumers who use natural gas or oil for their homes, businesses, cars, and boats have saved billions. Even more, fracking has spurred massive economic growth.

However, the well-documented benefits of fracking have largely been unnoticed and unappreciated by the public. Unfortunately, fracking has even been maligned because of numerous false claims spouted by fracking opponents. As a result of these efforts, policymakers in several states have chosen to place burdensome and unnecessary restrictions on fracking. Some states have even gone so far to ban fracking, which increases costs for consumers and retards economic growth.

Does fracking pollute drinking water? Fracking wells are located thousands of feet beneath the Earth’s surface. However, water wells and drinking water sources are typically no more than hundreds of feet deep. Despite fear-mongering to the contrary, there is no evidence that seepage of fracking fluids, oil, or natural gas from fracking wells contaminate water sources. A plethora of scientific research, including more than two-dozen peer reviewed studies and analyses released since 2010 and a six-year Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study released in 2016, have determined the fracking process is not a systemic threat to groundwater sources.

Does fracking pollute the air? Studies from across the country reveal that air pollution near fracking operations is typically no danger to human health. Moreover, EPA reports the decades-long decline in national air pollution has continued unabated since fracking became more widespread over the past decade.

Is fracking causing and increasing health problems such as asthma, birth defects, and cancer? As fracking operations have increased substantially, the prevalence of asthma, birth defects, and cancer have decreased. Additionally, the incidence of these health problems in major fracking states, such as Pennsylvania and Texas, is lower than in several states that do not contain significant fracking operations. Also, numerous studies demonstrate there is no evidence that the miniscule amounts of chemicals present in fracking fluids cause cancer.

Does fracking cause earthquakes? A global database that tracks earthquakes triggered by human activity reveals 44 earthquakes in the database’s history, which dates back to the nineteenth century, have been caused by fracking. Only nine of these fracking-induced earthquakes occurred in the United States. Additionally, just three of the earthquakes in the United States were strong enough to be felt on the surface.

In light of the immense number of studies showing fracking is relatively safe and that it provides substantial economic benefits, lawmakers should not ban fracking, place a moratorium on, or place onerous regulations on drilling activity. “Of course,” the brief concludes, “this does not mean energy companies shouldn’t continue to develop technologies that make the fracking process safer or more efficient. Nothing in this Policy Brief is meant to suggest there are zero risks associated with fracking or other drilling operations. However, those risks are quite small compared to the enormous benefits fracking continues to provide to the United States.”

The following documents provide more information about hydraulic fracturing.

Debunking Four Persistent Myths about Hydraulic Fracturing
This Heartland Institute Policy Brief by Policy Analyst Timothy Benson and Linnea Lueken, a former Heartland communications intern, outlines the basic elements of the fracking process and then refutes the four most widespread fracking myths, providing lawmakers and the public with the research and data they need to make informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing.

Climate Change Reconsidered II: Fossil Fuels – Summary for Policymakers—summary-for-policymakers
In this fifth volume of the Climate Change Reconsidered series, 117 scientists, economists, and other experts assess the costs and benefits of the use of fossil fuels1 by reviewing scientific and economic literature on organic chemistry, climate science, public health, economic history, human security, and theoretical studies based on integrated assessment models (IAMs) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA).

The Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels
This Heartland Policy Brief by Joseph Bast and Peter Ferrara documents the many benefits from the historic and still ongoing use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are lifting billions of people out of poverty, reducing all the negative effects of poverty on human health, and vastly improving human well-being and safety by powering labor-saving and life-protecting technologies, such as air conditioning, modern medicine, and cars and trucks. They are dramatically increasing the quantity of food humans produce and improving the reliability of the food supply, directly benefiting human health. Further, fossil fuel emissions are possibly contributing to a “Greening of the Earth,” benefiting all the plants and wildlife on the planet.

The Local Economic and Welfare Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing
This comprehensive study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research says fracking brings, on average, $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including a 7 percent increase in average income, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.

Local Fiscal Effects of a Drilling Downturn: Local Government Impacts of Decreased Oil and Gas Activity in Five U.S. Shale Regions
This study from Resources for the Future finds 82 percent of communities in the five largest shale regions in the United States experienced a net fiscal benefit from hydraulic fracturing despite there having been a large drop in oil and natural gas commodity prices starting in 2014.

Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues
This Heartland Institute booklet explores solutions to the top public policy issues facing the states in 2018 and beyond in the areas of budget and taxes, education, energy and environment, health care, and constitutional reform. The solutions identified are proven reform ideas that have garnered significant support among the states and with legislators.

Impacts of the Natural Gas and Oil Industry on the U.S. Economy in 2015
This study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, shows that the natural gas and oil industry supported 10.3 million U.S. jobs in 2015. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage paid by the natural gas and oil industry, excluding retail station jobs, was $101,181 in 2016, which is nearly 90 percent more than the national average. The study also shows the natural gas and oil industry has had widespread impacts in each of the 50 states.

What If … America’s Energy Renaissance Never Happened?
This report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy examines the impact the development of shale oil and gas has had on the United States. The report’s authors found that without the fracking-related “energy renaissance,” 4.3 million jobs in the United States may not have ever been created and $548 billion in annual GDP would have been lost since 2009. The report also found electricity prices would be 31 percent higher and gasoline prices 43 percent higher.

What If … Hydraulic Fracturing Was Banned?
This study is the fourth in a series of studies produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. It examines what a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing would entail. The report’s authors found by 2022, a ban would cause 14.8 million jobs to “evaporate,” almost double gasoline and electricity prices, and increase natural gas prices by 400 percent. Moreover, cost of living expenses would increase by nearly $4,000 per family, household incomes would be reduced by $873 billion, and GDP would be reduced by $1.6 trillion.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact John Nothdurft, Heartland’s director of government relations, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.