In early November 2016, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released its highly anticipated, 80,000-page final report on hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking,” and other drilling for natural gas near the town of Pavillion, Wyoming. The report concluded drilling activity did not contaminate well water there and that any contaminants found in those wells were likely to be naturally occurring.
“Evidence does not indicate that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallow depths utilized by water-supply wells,” states the report’s accompanying fact sheet. “Also, based on an evaluation of hydraulic fracturing history, and methods used in the Pavillion Gas Field, it is unlikely that hydraulic fracturing has caused any impacts to the water-supply wells.”
A December 2011 draft report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that hinted at a link between drilling and water contamination turned Pavillion into a locus of the hydraulic fracturing debate, despite then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stating after the report’s release, “… in no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.”
After EPA’s handling of the testing was criticized by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Geological Survey, among others, EPA turned the investigation over to DEQ in 2013.
Despite protestations to the contrary and hysteric claims made by green activists, the existing peer-reviewed evidence shows hydraulic fracturing processes do not pose a systemic impact on groundwater. Since 2010, at least 15 of these studies have been produced, including ones by the Bureau of Economic Geology at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas-Austin, the Department of Geology at the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Cincinnati, the California Council on Science and Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, and Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources.
The most noteworthy of these is a multi-year study conducted by the EPA itself. Released in June 2015, the study is widely considered to be the most exhaustive research to date on the subject of hydraulic fracturing. The EPA researchers found fracking has not led to systemic impacts on drinking water, stating, “the number of cases where drinking water resources were impacted is small relative to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”
The fracking process has transformed the energy outlook of the United States over the past decade, and the rise of shale gas as a replacement for coal has been primarily responsible for the United States now enjoying its lowest level of carbon-dioxide emissions since 1989. As my colleague Isaac Orr has stated, “Hydraulic fracturing and the shale gas boom have provided the United States a cost-effective, clean, and abundant source of fuel that will stimulate economic growth while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in a practical and significant way.”
Federal, state, and local governments have tested thousands of sites for hydraulic fracturing pollution of groundwater and drinking water resources. There is no scientific justification for banning hydraulic fracturing or over-regulating it out of existence. Regulation should only be based on the best available scientific literature, not on wild, unfounded claims based on misinformation, fear, and superstition.
The following documents provide more information about hydraulic fracturing and groundwater.
Fracking Facts: The Science, Economics, and Legal Realities
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, has been employed in the United States since the 1940s. Although innovation has improved the precision of the process, the essentials are the same. Utilizing horizontal drilling, a mixture of mostly water, sand, and trace amounts of chemicals, are used to create fissures in underground shale deposits to allow oil and natural gas trapped in hard rock to move toward the surface to be collected. Activists have blamed fracking and the processes associated with it for emissions of pollutants, earthquakes, and even groundwater contamination, though independent evidence consistently shows these allegations to be false. Leigh Thompson of the Texas Public Policy Foundation argues the evidence supporting fracking bans looks slim when attention is drawn to the facts.
Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources
This assessment from the Environmental Protection Agency provides a review and synthesis of available scientific literature and data to assess the potential impact hydraulic fracturing may have on the quality or quantity of drinking water resources, and it identifies factors affecting the frequency or severity of any potential impacts. The scope of this assessment is defined by the hydraulic fracturing water cycle, which includes five main activities: water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, flowback and produced water, and wastewater treatment and waste disposal.
Hydraulic Fracturing a Game-Changer for U.S. Energy and Economies
In this Policy Study from The Heartland Institute, Heartland Research Fellow Isaac Orr explains the advantages and disadvantages of smart drilling and its alternatives. Orr reviews the background and potential of hydraulic fracturing in the United States and 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 the public safety issues raised by activists, such as potential harm to drinking water supplies. Orr also discusses how oil and gas production is regulated at the state and national levels and suggests appropriate policies for the industry.
Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues
This booklet explores solutions to the top public policy issues facing the states in 2016 and beyond in the areas of budget and tax, education, energy and environment, health care, and constitutional reform. The solutions we have identified are proven reform ideas gaining momentum among the states and with legislators.
Ten Principles of Energy Policy
Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast outlines the ten most important principles for policymakers confronting energy issues, providing guidance to help withstand ongoing changes in markets, technology, and policies adopted in other states, supported by a thorough bibliography.
Hydraulic Fracturing: Critical for Energy Production, Jobs, and Economic Growth
Increased energy production on private lands in the United States has been one of the most promising economic success stories in recent years. A large part of the success is due to an energy-extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing. Misconceptions about hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, abound. The Heritage Foundation’s Nicolas Loris explains hydraulic fracturing is safe when regulated effectively and says fracking greatly increases the nation’s energy production, thus promoting job creation.
Managing the Risks of Hydraulic Fracturing: An Update
Kenneth P. Green of the Fraser Institute argues policymakers should ignore the siren song made by those calling for moratoria or bans on fracking.
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 and other topics, visit the website of Environment & Climate News at https://heartland.org/publications-resources/newsletters/environment-climate-news, The Heartland Institute’s website, http://heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.heartland.org/policybot.
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 additional 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.