Research & Commentary: Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) of Natural Gas

Published June 21, 2011

Research & Commentary: Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) of Natural Gas

New natural gas discoveries in shale rock formations and rapid technological advances to recover the gas have improved the U.S. domestic energy outlook. The nation’s domestic natural gas reserves are so abundant that the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts within a few years electricity from natural gas will be less expensive than from coal. Some environmental activist groups, however, are trying to shut down natural gas production, especially production from shale, arguing environmental harms outweigh the economic benefits.

The newfound abundance of domestic natural gas reserves promises unprecedented energy prosperity and security. Mitchell Baer, director of oil and gas analysis for the U.S. Department of Energy, says domestic shale rock formations alone can meet our nation’s natural gas usage for many years at current consumption levels. Shale gas production benefits the regional economies where production takes place. A recent Pennsylvania State University study found shale gas production in 2009 generated 48,000 jobs, $400 million in tax revenues, and $3.8 billion in economic output in Pennsylvania alone.

Shale extraction has proven remarkably safe for the environment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not found a single instance of drinking water contaminated by hydraulic fracturing, the technique used to extract natural gas from shale rock. Rock formations containing natural gas are hundreds or thousands of feet below groundwater tables and are kept separate from them by impermeable rock layers. Some minor instances of groundwater pollution have been reported, but these have occurred largely due to faulty pipe seals at the surface and are as likely to occur at conventional natural gas production sites as hydraulic fracturing sites.

Investigative journalists have debunked sensational falsehoods about hydraulic fracturing. The agenda-driven movie Gasland showed a Colorado resident lighting fire to water running from his kitchen faucet, which the movie blamed on recent hydraulic fracturing nearby. Investigative journalists discovered methane-rich natural gas is so prevalent in the area that residents have been able to light their water on fire since at least the 1930s, long before hydraulic fracturing. If anything, natural gas extraction—through hydraulic fracturing or other methods—is likely to reduce the naturally occurring contamination of regional water.

The following documents provide additional information about the safety and benefits of hydraulic fracturing.

Penn State Study Documents Economic Benefits of Shale Production
This article from Environment & Climate News reports on a fact sheet produced by the Penn State Cooperative Extension Marcellus Education Team on the economic benefits of shale expansion as demonstrated using data from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue.

Hydraulic Fracturing—Is It Safe?
The Institute for Energy Research analyzes the effect—or lack thereof—of fracking on groundwater resources and the regulations already in place to ensure groundwater protection.

Hydraulic Fracturing: Unlocking America’s Natural Gas Resources
The American Petroleum Institute, an oil and natural gas industry trade association, provides a primer on hydraulic fracturing, including details on the process.

Hydraulic Fracturing: Beneficent Breakthrough or Environmental Endangerment?
A panel of experts from the environmental and free-market communities gathered at the American Enterprise Institute to discuss the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing.

State Regulators Clear Fracking in Water Pollution Claims
Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, discusses safety analyses conducted by state regulators in Colorado and Texas that found no connection between water degradation and fracking.

Hydraulic Fracturing: A Safe, Proven Technology Studied for Decades by Multiple Agencies–A-Safe,-Proven-Technology-St.aspx
Range Resources, a natural gas company operating in the Appalachian region and American Southwest, compiles studies from state and federal regulatory agencies documenting the minimal level of risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.

Inconvenient Truths of ‘Gasland’ Documentary
Irish journalist Phelim McAleer revisits the pivotal scene in the documentary Gasland in which a Colorado resident’s tap water is set on fire—unveiling the phenomenon as natural and not caused by natural gas extraction.

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, you may contact Heartland energy and environment Legislative Specialist John Monaghan, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000, or Senior Fellow James M. Taylor, at [email protected].