The Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing: Environmental Concerns and Policy Implications

This paper seeks to analyze the process of hydraulic fracturing, which entails pressurizing rock formations to extract oil and natural gas from beneath the surface. It aims to explore the definition of hydraulic fracturing, its impact on the earth and surrounding environment, as well as its ramifications. This technique involves injecting large amounts of clean water, along with sand and chemicals, into the ground at high pressure in order to fracture rock formations and release gas or oil.

After conducting research, it has been discovered that there are both advocates and opponents of fracking.

Nevertheless, it is indisputable that in the event of accidents, the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates the detrimental effects of fracking on our environment and its residents. To gain further insight into the invasive nature of fracking, please consult page 3's diagram in the Hydraulic Fracking Research Paper.

Since its introduction in 1947, hydraulic fracturing has caused environmental concerns but gained popularity as a commercial method by 1949. By 2013, over 65% of new oil and gas wells worldwide used this technique.

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It allowed the United States to access previously untapped reserves of natural gas and oil from economically unviable shale deposits.

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, has provided economic benefits to communities and governments during an uncertain economic period. However, scientists have raised concerns about potential environmental risks associated with the chemicals utilized in this procedure. There is apprehension that these chemicals may cause harm to underground areas or result in contamination if waste fluids are mishandled and accidentally spilled on the surface, potentially polluting clean water sources.

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Nonetheless, the natural gas industry maintains that fracking continues to be a secure and effective technique.

According to Mr. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, fracking has been a safe extraction technique in use since 1949. However, it has recently evolved as energy companies now employ high-pressure methods to extract more gas from deeper levels. This advanced approach requires an increased usage of water, sand, and chemicals.

The process has resulted in significant environmental effects, which have caused public concern. While a causal relationship has not been proven yet, the growing attention given to these impacts suggests that government intervention may be forthcoming. Baumgartner and Jones's Punctuated Equilibrium theory states that policy processes in the government subsystem typically exhibit stability and incremental changes. However, in certain instances where enough attention is drawn to an issue, it can lead to substantial and transformative modifications.

Thus far, policy surrounding hydraulic fracturing has primarily consisted of agency rules and state regulations. However, it can be contended that if a definitive connection can be established between fracking activities and public health hazards, then the probability of a significant punctuation event occurring would rise and enable substantial policy reform on a nationwide scale concerning this matter. The issue is coming to the forefront as a result of the alterations in the fracking procedure, where the initial technique involved injecting fluid down a vertical shaft to induce fractures in the bedrock for the extraction of additional gas or oil.

The previous method of extraction only allowed for fluid extraction directly under the well, but the current method uses extreme pressure to force fluid down a vertical shaft with horizontal or directional sections. This allows for extraction from a wider area within the formation. The pressure and fluid create fracture systems, which enable natural gas or oil to flow more freely from rock pores to production wells that bring it to the surface.

Fracking primarily employs water (about 90%) as its main fluid, along with sand (approximately 9%) as propping agents and chemicals (contributing around 0.5%). The specific composition and blend of these chemicals are often kept confidential or deemed a "trade secret" among different companies. As per the Democratic Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce, fracking involves the use of 750 various chemicals, spanning from harmless substances like salt and citric acid to dangerous ones such as lead and benzene.

Allegations have been made regarding the potential pollution of water sources and air caused by the chemicals used in fracking. However, it has been difficult to definitively prove a direct connection between fracking and this contamination. This lack of evidence has allowed the industry to operate with few regulations until recently. The American Petroleum Institute (API) reports that fracking has led to the extraction of 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 7 billion barrels of oil. Furthermore, it is projected that fracking will contribute to 70% of future natural gas development.

The Worldwatch Institute views natural gas as a valuable fuel in transitioning away from petroleum towards alternative fuels. Natural gas emits just over half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal throughout its production, distribution, and utilization process, while providing the same energy output. Therefore, it is an attractive choice for achieving energy independence. Moreover, fracking has received praise for generating job opportunities and boosting the economy.

The Marcellus fairway, encompassing Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia, has the potential to bring significant economic benefits. As per the American Petroliem Institute (API), it could create 300,000 new jobs and contribute nearly $25 billion to the economy by 2020. Moreover, it is estimated to generate over $6 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue.

In South Texas' Eagle Ford Shale area, Exco Resources plans to acquire approximately 55,000 net acres across Zavala County Dimmit County La Salle County and Frio County. These properties currently possess 120 productive wells with an average net output.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. intends to sell its assets in the Eagle Ford and Haynesville shales for $1 billion to Exco Resources, a Dallas-based company. This news coincides with Chesapeake Energy Corp.'s report of producing 6,100 barrels of oil equivalent per day in May.

The American Chemistry Council explains that the decline in natural gas prices resulting from fracking has prompted more industrial companies to maintain their operations within the United States. Consequently, these companies' investments could potentially reach $16 billion and generate 17,000 direct jobs as well as 400,000 indirect jobs.

When assessing hydraulic fracturing, it is crucial to take into account the economic advantages as well as the potential adverse environmental impacts. These include water contamination and air pollution, which can lead to severe health consequences.

A significant concern associated with hydraulic fracturing is its utilization of fresh water, a finite resource on our planet. According to the United States Geological Survey, only 2.5% of all earth's water is freshwater, with surface water accounting for 1.3% and groundwater making up 30.1%. The remainder exists in the form of ice or snow in glaciers or ice caps.

Water is essential for supporting life on Earth and it is important to protect it from harmful pollution. There are concerns that fracking has caused pollution in both surface and groundwater sources. Groundwater, which is water located below the Earth's surface, can become contaminated due to different mechanisms related to fracking activities. Fracking usually takes place at depths of about 8,000 feet beneath the surface, depending on the geological composition of the area, while most underground water aquifers are typically found approximately 1,000 feet below ground level.

Supporters of fracking argue that the distance between fracking and the aquifer acts as a barrier against the spread of contaminants. Nevertheless, because of the earth's permeability and natural fissures or fractures, it is still possible for contaminants to migrate. Fracking involves applying high pressure to a porous formation, which increases the chances of migration. One particular concern relates to methane gas, which is naturally present in the earth and released in large amounts when rock formations fracture during fracking.

The National Academy of Sciences discovered that methane gas concentrations in drinking water wells increase as the distance to the nearest gas well decreases. These elevated concentrations could potentially result in dangerous levels of methane, which have the potential to cause explosions. Conversely, wells located near nonextraction sites did not show such high levels of dissolved methane samples. In Dimock, Pennsylvania, a study found that residents living near fracking sites experienced incidents of well explosions and flammable water due to increased concentrations of methane gas.

Increased levels of methane contamination in drinking water have been reported in several cities and surrounding counties in Texas, including Lubbuck, Weatherford, Beaumont, and Ft Worth. The exact cause of this contamination is still unclear. One potential factor that could be contributing to the contamination is the construction process itself. In some cases, the drilling shaft passes through the aquifer before reaching the shale formations below. If proper construction procedures are not followed, there is a possibility that fracking fluid could leak into the aquifer during drilling or when it is brought back up as flowback.

Fracking wastewater disposal in injection wells can lead to groundwater contamination. Currently, this waste is categorized as "oil/gas waste" instead of "hazardous waste," which means it is not subject to strict regulations for hazardous material disposal. As a result, if the injection well is not constructed correctly, there is a possibility of hazardous chemicals polluting groundwater sources. Furthermore, fracking activities have also been associated with pollution of surface water.

Fracking has an impact on surface water, such as freshwater found in rivers, streams, or lakes. The extraction of oil and gas through fracking produces a significant amount of wastewater called flowback. This flowback is returned to the surface and goes through treatment at waste water treatment plants before being discharged into surface waters. However, this treatment only deals with tier 1 & 2 chemicals and does not include tier 3 volatile chemicals. If the wastewater cannot be disposed of using this method, certain companies opt to store it in lined "containment ponds" until evaporation occurs.

Fracking operations in Texas are believed to be responsible for the increase in air pollution, potentially caused by issues with containment ponds. These ponds typically have plastic liners that can break or become damaged, resulting in the release of polluted fluids into the ground or surface water. Another concern arises from blocked wells during fracking. The cement plug used to seal the well may not be properly sealed under high pressure, which could lead to an explosion and the discharge of fracking chemicals into nearby surface water.

Fracking has uncovered increased levels of naturally occurring radioactive elements, such as radium, in specific regions' water bodies. Additionally, worries have arisen regarding air pollution caused by fracking operations. The extraction of natural gas via fracking releases greenhouse gases that contribute to smog and potential carcinogens, raising concerns for both human health and the environment. Fracking sites exhibit elevated concentrations of methanol, formaldehyde, carbon disulfide, and benzene.

Fracked gas wells emit harmful pollutants that can result in severe health problems like asthma attacks, cancer, and premature death. Among these pollutants are volatile organic compounds that have the potential to combine with sunlight and form smog. The "Halliburton Loophole," a provision established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, grants hydraulic fracturing an exemption from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Consequently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is only able to regulate fracking fluid injection under the SDWA if diesel is utilized.

Assessing diesel usage in fracking is difficult due to the use of proprietary chemicals. Although some companies voluntarily disclose their chemical usage on, this requirement only applies to private land. However, the Department of the Interior has mandated that companies operating on public and Indian lands must disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

The new regulations provide instructions for well construction and wastewater disposal. State regulators can use these guidelines. A number of states, such as Wyoming, Michigan, and Texas, have taken proactive steps by requiring full public disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluid. The Clean Water Act is a federal law that governs water regulation and permits the National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System to issue licenses to companies disposing flowback into surface waters.

Currently, there is a lack of testing for volatile organic compounds, which have the potential to cause cancer or birth defects in humans, in the flowback that is released back into surface water. However, the Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to regulate industry emissions into the air in order to protect air quality and the stratospheric ozone layer. In April, the EPA introduced air pollution regulations specifically for "fracking" wells, which require drillers to either burn or capture the gas and its smog-producing compounds that are released during initial tapping. These regulations were implemented in June 2012 but have a two-year transition period.

While drilling, the gas and chemicals are often burned off but will need to be captured in the future to reduce environmental impact. This process, known as "green completions," is estimated by the EPA to reduce smog-related chemicals released by fracking wells by 95%. Fracking has been allowed to operate with minimal regulations for many years due to the absence of a definitive link between fracking and public health risks, as it was not widely recognized as a concern. However, in recent years, increased use and undeniable potential harm associated with fracking have brought the practice under scrutiny.

Therefore, fracking will continue until there is undeniable proof of the negative impact on human health caused by its environmental effects. However, it is crucial to have stricter industry regulations and thorough monitoring to ensure the safety of the practice. If this occurs, there will likely be greater support for policies that encourage stronger regulation of hydraulic fracturing. Conversely, if there continues to be uncertainty and skepticism from fracking supporters, any changes will probably be minor and gradual within the subsystem.

According to Drs. Bamberger and Oswald, the industry and its political allies have responded to scientific studies on the health and environmental impacts of fracking in a way that resembles the tobacco industry's denial of the link between smoking and cancer. The doctors not only advocate for thorough testing and disclosure of air, water, soil, animals, and humans, but also highlight that without strict regulation, the gas drilling boom will continue to be an uncontrolled and massive health experiment. References

Bibliography of Works Cited:

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Concerns arise in the Lubbock community as reports indicate methane has been detected in drinking water across the United States. The news can be found at

Visit to learn about the dangers of fracking.

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Below is a link to the website for an article on hydraulic fracturing on the ProPublica website:

http://www. propublica. org/special/hydraulic-fracturing-national


Updated: Feb 21, 2024
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The Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing: Environmental Concerns and Policy Implications. (2016, Jul 25). Retrieved from

The Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing: Environmental Concerns and Policy Implications essay
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