Natural Gas Hydraulic Fracturing & Our Watersheds
Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is an oil and natural gas production technique that involves the injection of millions of gallons of water, plus chemicals and sand, underground at very high pressure in order to create fractures in the underlying geology to allow natural gas to escape. The sand is used to keep the fractures open and allow oil or gas to flow more efficiently.
Hydraulic fracturing is used in many types of geologic formations such as coalbeds, shale plays, and previously-drilled wells to further stimulate production. Thirty-three states have oil and/or natural gas production and, according to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, more than 90% of U.S. oil and natural gas wells use some type of hydraulic fracturing. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of more wells are planned across the country over the next decade.
Is hydraulic fracturing regulated?
Hydraulic fracturing is one of only two underground injection processes exempted from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. States where hydraulic fracturing occurs have varying regulatory requirements, some of which are weak. For example while some states have recently required disclosure of what chemicals reside in fracking fluid, the respective volumes are unknown as each companies’ combination is proprietary.
Federal law does not recognize byproduct frack-water as a toxic waste, meaning the larger issue remains. Similarly, watersheds suffer from landscape fragmentation, one of the unavoidable consequences of the current fracturing process. Less forest cover over small tributary streams contributes to impairment in terms of water temperature, while sediment and contaminated surface water from poor stormwater and erosion and sediment controls present other threats to stream integrity.
Why does industry say that hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate drinking water?
In some cases, no one denies that groundwater has been contaminated but the industry claims that the hydraulic fracturing process is not the cause. This has become a game of semantics. Independent scientists and regulators have not had access to information about the chemicals used in the fluids and thus cannot adequately investigate cases of groundwater contamination, even where signs clearly point to hydraulic fracturing. Some cases where groundwater was contaminated during hydraulic fracturing operations have been attributed to faulty well structure and other oil and gas production causes instead of hydraulic fracturing per se, or have never been resolved. We believe no further unconventional shale gas development should be allowed in the face of current evidence.
Didn’t EPA study this issue in 2004 and conclude there were no problems?
A 2004 EPA study of hydraulic fracturing in coalbed methane wells concluded that hydraulic fracturing “poses little or no threat” to drinking water and that no further study was necessary. There have been many criticisms of this study as being insufficient and scientifically unsound and in fact, an EPA whistleblower noted that the conclusions were “unsupportable” and that some members of the study’s review panel had conflicts of interest. It is also critical to note that the study only considered coalbed methane wells, not shale gas plays or other locations where hydraulic fracturing takes place. EPA is currently conducting a new, in-depth study assessing unconventional shale gas development over throughout its lifecycle with the intent of addressing the need for federal regulations to protect human health and the environment.
Should new development be put on hold while EPA completes studies urged by Congress?
YES. Although Congress has directed EPA to investigate the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, we have enough information now to move forward with a stronger regulatory regime. Groundwater is being contaminated, the natural gas industry is moving to new areas with this technology, and many states have inadequate regulatory programs which do not even provide for public disclosure of the toxic chemicals used in this process. Pennsylvania in particular should declare a moratorium on all drilling on state lands while an environmental impact study is conducted of direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts and comprehensive, adequate regulations are put in place.
Do we want to stop more unconventional shale gas development in the Susquehanna?
We don’t believe that Susquehanna drinking water aquifers, designated uses, water quality and communities are adequately protected from contamination, diminution or harm. The environmental impacts of natural gas drilling include water quantity (between 2 and 7 millions gallons of water needed per well), water quality (hydrofracking chemicals, drilling muds, and “produced water” that results from the well development process) and stormwater runoff (nonpoint source pollution, erosion, stream degradation), habitat destruction and disruption, noise, air quality and community/cultural, scenic and quality of life impacts. Inadequate regulation of the industry results in the inability of government entities to avoid these negative impacts.
Likewise, ecosystems and communities of the Susquehanna and Chesapeake Bay are literally in the epicenter or downstream, respectively, from the expansive industrialization of northern and central Pennsylvania’s landscapes. So long as there are inadequate regulatory safeguards and no proof that unconventional hydraulic fracturing can be practiced safely, without risk of impairing the Susquehanna’s water resources or hurting community health and welfare, we do not support further shale gas development.