Research & Commentary: Hydraulic Fracturing Bans

Published June 7, 2012

Despite there being no known natural gas resources in Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin recently signed into law the nation’s first state ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Vermont’s ban is little more than symbolic, but Shumlin publicly encouraged other states to impose bans, saying the increased natural gas production is not worth the risk of contaminating drinking supplies.

Supporters of the ban claim fracking sites have contaminated nearby drinking water with high methane levels on several occasions. Last year, however, a peer-reviewed, Duke University study found no evidence to support claims of methane contamination unique to fracking. It instead pointed to poorly constructed drill casings. Instances of faulty casings do occur, but they happen rarely and are not unique to fracking.

Claims of contamination risks likely will continue as fracking operations move into the more densely populated East Coast due to the discovery of the Marcellus Shale. Recent economic evidence from Pennsylvania reveals the discovery and extraction of an abundant, clean energy source such as natural gas should be viewed as a positive by residents and policymakers.

In 2009, Pennsylvania was able to add 48,000 jobs, $40 million in tax revenues, and $3.8 billion in economic output, according to a Pennsylvania State University study, with higher economic activity concentrated near Marcellus wells. In March 2012, the U.S. EPA tested water supplies from 11 homes in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania, an area with a large number of wells, and found no health concerns.

Ultimately, a statewide ban on fracking would impose an unnecessary burden on the economy while producing little to no additional protection of drinking water supplies. States considering tighter regulation of hydraulic fracturing should consider the following:

* Regulation should be based on the best available science, never on unfounded claims driven by fear and misinformation.

* Regulation should be inclusive and take account of voluntary initiatives already undertaken by the drilling companies.

* Proposed regulations should be decided on as quickly as possible to prevent unnecessary loss of investment as businesses pull out because of regulatory uncertainty.

The following documents provide additional information about the safety and benefits of hydraulic fracturing. The Truth About Fracking
Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie interviews Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey about the environmental risks and economic benefits of hydraulic fracturing. Bailey says New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is wrong to claim federal agencies that have allowed fracking have not adequately studied the issue.

Research & Commentary: Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) of Natural Gas
Heartland Institute Senior Fellow James M. Taylor provides a primer on hydraulic fracturing, discussing the overstated environmental impact and providing a series of useful links to additional research on the topic.

Baffled About Fracking? You’re Not Alone
Mike Sorenberg of Greenwire draws an important and misunderstood distinction between fracking and drilling, and he discusses how that confusion can mislead both supporters and critics of hydraulic fracturing.

Dim Duo Done in by Dimock Data
William Yeatman, an energy policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, discusses the preliminary lab results of water samples taken from wells in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania, and the EPA’s tendency to promote findings of alleged environmental harm while downplaying studies to the contrary.

Vermont Bans Fracking: We Can Live Without Oil & Natural Gas, But Cannot Live Without Clean Water Editor Matt McDermott opines on the importance of clean water supplies to a healthy society and claims certain sources of energy are not needed. As a result, he says, erring on the side of excessive precaution is best.

“Fracking” for Natural Gas Is Polluting Ground Water, Study Concludes
Writing about a Duke University study, Mark Clayton of the Christian Science Monitor notes that despite the researchers’ statement they found no evidence showing hydraulic fracturing causes groundwater contamination, many environmental activists still interpret the data as justifying overstated claims about contamination risks.

Science and the Reasonable Development of Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Resources in Pennsylvania and New York
Practicing litigators analyze standard of proof and baseline groundwater monitoring in hydraulic fracturing litigation and the implications for determining the appropriate level of regulation. 


For further information on this subject, visit the Environment & Climate News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

Nothing in this message is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. If you have any questions about this issue or the Heartland Web site, contact Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Taylor Smith at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.