Fracking studies

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Air Pollution

  • Volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions characterization during the flow-back phase of a hydraulically refractured well in the Uintah Basin, Utah using mobile PTR-MS measurements, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A hydraulically refractured gas well in the Red Wash fields in Utah, southeast of Salt Lake City, was sampled regularly within two weeks of the hydraulic refracturing. The well waste water was collected into an open flow-back pond. Very high mixing ratios of aromatic hydrocarbons were observed coming from condensate and flow-back reservoirs.
  • 2012 Uinta Basin Winter Ozone and Air Quality Study, Utah Department of Environmental Quality; EPA; the Bureau of Land Management; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Utah State University; the University of California; the University of Colorado, Boulder; and the Western Energy Alliance, Feb 1, 2013. Measured pollution in the Uinta Basin in Utah during the winter of 2011-2012, which indicated that 98 to 99 percent of the volatile organic compounds and 57 to 61 percent of the nitrogen oxides in the region came from oil and gas operations.
  • Colborn T, Schultz K, Herrick L, and Kwiatkowski C. An exploratory study of air quality near natural gas operations. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal (November 9, 2012) - found that a set of chemicals called non-methane hydrocarbons, or NMHCs, are in the air near drilling sites even when fracking is not in progress. According to the study, more than 50 NMHCs were found near gas wells in rural Colorado, including 35 that affect the brain and nervous system. Some were detected at levels high enough to potentially harm children who are exposed to them before birth.
  • Lisa M. McKenziea, Roxana Z. Wittera, Lee S. Newmana, John L. Adgatea, Human Health Risk Assessment of Air Emissions from Development of Unconventional Natural Gas Resources, Science of the Total Environment, 2012 - Estimated health risks for exposures to air emissions from a gas drilling project in Garfield County, Colorado. Found that air pollution caused by fracking may contribute to acute and chronic health problems for those living near natural gas drilling sites, as monitoring found a number of potentially toxic and carcinogenic petroleum hydrocarbons in the air near oil/gas wells, including known carcinogens such as benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene. Other chemicals included heptane, octane and diethylbenzene but information on their toxicity is limited. The greatest health impact corresponds to the relatively short-term, but high emission, well completion period. The effects could include eye irritation, headaches, sore throat and difficulty breathing.[1]
  • Earthworks, Reckless Endangerment While Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale, September 19, 2013.

Campaign contributions

Chemical disclosure

Diesel use


  • T. H. W. Goebel, M. Hosseini, F. Cappa, E. Hauksson, J. P. Ampuero, F. Aminzadeh and J. B. Saleeby, Wastewater disposal and earthquake swarm activity at the southern end of the Central Valley, California, Geophysics Research Letters, February 2016 - Geologists tied a September 2005 swarm of earthquakes near the White Wolf fault in Kern County, California to three wastewater disposal wells nearby. Using hydrogeological modeling, the authors found that wastewater disposal likely contributed to seismicity via localized pressure increase along the active fault.
  • Won-Young Kim, Induced seismicity associated with fluid injection into a deep well in Youngstown, Ohio, Journal of Geophysical Research, Volume 118, Issue 7, pages 3506–3518, July 2013 - concludes that "the recent earthquakes in Youngstown, Ohio were induced by the fluid injection at a deep injection" and that the data "may indicate that the earthquakes were directly caused by the pressure buildup and stopped when pressure dropped."
  • William L. Ellsworth, Injection-Induced Earthquakes, Science, July 2013 - notes that after decades of a steady earthquake rate (average of 21 events/year), U.S. activity increased starting in 2001 and peaked at 188 earthquakes in 2011. States that human-induced earthquakes are at least partially responsible for the increase, and updated regulations are needed for wastewater injection wells.
  • Emily E. Brodsky and Lia J. Lajoie, Anthropogenic Seismicity Rates and Operational Parameters at the Salton Sea Geothermal Field, (sub req) Science, July 11, 2013 - authors conclude there is a clear correlation between the amount of water extracted and injected into the ground, and the number of earthquakes. Study based on analysis of a Californian geothermal energy site, which showed that for a net injection of 500 million gallons of water into the ground per month, there is an earthquake on average every 11 days. Authors say number of earthquakes can be predicted, but not their size. Also found major earthquakes thousands of miles away can trigger reflex quakes in areas where fluids have been injected.
  • Katie M. Keranen, Heather M. Savage, Geoffrey A. Abers, and Elizabeth S. Cochran, Potentially induced earthquakes in Oklahoma, USA: Links between wastewater injection and the 2011 Mw 5.7 earthquake sequence, Geology, 2013 - The study links Oklahoma's 5.7 earthquake to underground injection of wastewater from nearby oil and gas production -- the largest quake ever linked to injection. According to the researchers: "We use the aftershocks to illuminate the faults that ruptured in the sequence, and show that the tip of the initial rupture plane is within ∼200 m of active injection wells and within ∼1 km of the surface."
  • Investigation of Observed Seismicity in the Horn River Basin, BC Oil and Gas Commission, August 2012 - Found that "Evidence strongly suggests that all [seismic] events were triggered by fluid injection [fracking] at adjacent stages."
  • USGS, Are Seismicity Rate Changes in the Midcontinent Natural or Manmade? USGS, 2012. - The USGS study found that a "remarkable increase in the rate of M 3 and greater earthquakes is currently in progress in the US midcontinent" and "the acceleration in activity that began in 2009 appears to involve a combination of source regions of oil and gas production, including the Guy, Arkansas region, and in central and southern Oklahoma." The study concludes: "While the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade, it remains to be determined how they are related to either changes in extraction methodologies or the rate of oil and gas production."
  • Minimizing and Managing Potential Impacts of Induced Seismicity from Class II Disposal Wells: Practical Approaches, US Environmental Protection Agency Draft Report, November 27, 2012.
  • Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Preliminary Report on the Northstar 1 Class II Injection Well and the Seismic Events in the Youngstown, Ohio Area, March 2012. - Found "a number of co-occurring circumstances strongly indicating the Youngstown area earthquakes were induced." There were 134 earthquakes in the region in 2011 measuring 3.0 or higher on the Richter scale – six times the average annual rate for any given year in the 20th century.
  • Austin Holland, Examination of Possibly Induced Seismicity from Hydraulic Fracturing in the Eola Field, Garvin County, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Geological Survey Open-File Report, 2011. - Examined a cluster of earthquakes in Oklahoma and found "that shortly after hydraulic fracturing began small earthquakes started occurring, and more than 50 were identified, of which 43 were large enough to be located. Most of these earthquakes occurred within a 24 hour period after hydraulic fracturing operations had ceased."



Property values





GHG emissions and methane leakage

  • Toward a better understanding and quantification of methane emissions from shale gas development, PNAS, March 2014.
  • Eric Larson, Natural Gas & Climate Change, Climate Central, May 2013 - examines greenhouse gas benefits of switching from coal to gas based on various methane leakage rates of 2%, 5%, and 8%. Found that, at an average annual conversion rate of electricity from coal to gas of 2.5 percent, the reductions at a 2 percent methane leak rate would be 29 percent by 2050, and a 5 percent leakage rate would have benefits of 12 percent by 2050. With an 8 percent leak rate, GHG emissions would be greater than with coal for more than 50 years before a benefit begins to be realized.
  • Reducing Upstream GHG Emissions from U.S. Natural Gas Systems, World Resources Institute, April 2013.
  • GHGRP 2011: Reported Data, EPA, released Feb. 2013. - The EPA's accounting of emissions that cause global warming from stationary sources found that emissions from drilling, including fracking, and leaks from transmission pipes totaled 225 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalents during 2011, second only to power plants, which emitted 2,221 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2011.
  • Has US Shale Gas Reduced CO2 Emissions? Examining recent changes in emissions from the US power sector and traded fossil fuels, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, October 2012 - compares drop in US CO2 emissions with increases in US coal exports. Concludes that more than half of the emissions avoided in the US power sector from natural gas may have been negated through coal exports (exports equivalent to 340 MtCO2 emissions elsewhere in the world, i.e. 52% of the 650 MtCO2 of potential emissions avoided within the US).
  • Ramón A. Alvareza, Stephen W. Pacalab, James J. Winebrakec, William L. Chameidesd, and Steven P. Hamburge, Greater focus needed on methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2012 - introduces the idea of “technology warming potentials” (TWPs) to reveal “reveal time-dependent tradeoffs inherent in a choice between alternative technologies.” Using this approach, the potent warming effect of methane (CH4) emissions undercuts the value of fuel switching in the next few decades; the study finds that a big switch from coal to gas would only reduce TWP by about 25% over the first three decades—not the 50% drop in CO2 emissions often claimed. The conclusion is based on “EPA’s latest estimate of the amount of CH4 released because of leaks and venting in the natural gas network between production wells and the local distribution network” of 2.4%. Many experts believe the leakage rate is higher than 2.4% for fracking.
  • Nathan Myhrvold and Ken Caldeira, Greenhouse gases, climate change and the transition from coal to low-carbon electricity, Environmental Review Letters 7 014019, February 2012 - looked at switching from one terawatt of coal power plants to natural gas-or to solar panels, or wind, or nuclear, or other options. In the natural gas scenario, the study calculated a range of warming trajectories for warming 100 years from now, with temperatures 17 to 25 percent lower than they would be if the world stuck with coal. The cut in the warming trajectory was far sharper for a switch to energy sources with near-zero emissions—such as nuclear, wind, or solar energy. The reduction in the temperature increase was 57 to 81 percent, according to the study models.
  • Tom Wigley, Coal to gas: the influence of methane leakage, Climatic Change, 2011 - found that unless leakage rates for new methane can be kept below 2%, substituting gas for coal is not an effective means for reducing the magnitude of future climate change: "We consider a scenario where a fraction of coal usage is replaced by natural gas (i.e., methane, CH4) over a given time period, and where a percentage of the gas production is assumed to leak into the atmosphere. The additional CH4 from leakage adds to the radiative forcing of the climate system, offsetting the reduction in CO2 forcing that accompanies the transition from coal to gas."
  • Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro, and Anthony Ingraffea, Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations: A letter, Climatic Change, March 2011 - estimates that as much as 8 percent of the methane in shale gas leaks out into the air during the lifetime of a hydraulic shale gas well, making it a higher greenhouse gas emitter than conventional gas, oil, or even coal. Argues that if there is leakage of 2.5% or more of methane, gas is worse than coal in terms of effect on climate.
  • Leaking Profits: The U.S. Oil and Gas Industry Can Reduce Pollution, Conserve Resources, and Make Money by Preventing Methane Waste, NRDC, March 2012.

Carbon dioxide


Natural gas transmission

  • America Pays for Gas Leaks: Natural Gas Pipeline Leaks Cost Consumers Billions,, Aug 1, 2013 - found "gas distribution companies in 2011 reported releasing 69 billion cubic feet of natural gas to the atmosphere, almost enough to meet the state of Maine’s gas need for a year” yet gas companies have little incentive to replace leaky aging pipes because they are able to pass along the cost of lost gas to consumers. Also noted that, from 2000 through 2012, there were several hundred explosions which killed 116 people.

Health effects

For more on this topic, go to Fracking and health effects

Infrastructure and Transportation



For more information, go to LNG Terminals


  • Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald, Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health, New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy Vol. 22(1) 51-77, 2012 - compiled 24 case studies of farmers in six shale-gas states whose livestock experienced neurological, reproductive and acute gastrointestinal problems after being exposed – either accidentally or incidentally – to fracking chemicals in the water or air. According to the authors: "The findings illustrate which aspects of the drilling process may lead to health problems and suggest modifications that would lessen but not eliminate impacts. Complete evidence regarding health impacts of gas drilling cannot be obtained due to incomplete testing and disclosure of chemicals, and nondisclosure agreements."



Public perceptions


For more information, go to Fracking and regulations


Methane leakage

Pipeline Inspections

  • Government Accountability Office, Collecting Data and Sharing Information on Federally Unregulated Gathering Pipelines Could Help Enhance Safety, GAO-12-388, March 22, 2012. - Report estimates 240,000 miles of U.S. gas/oil pipeline are not regulated by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, as the federal agency does not oversee pipeline that is not within 220 yards of at least 10 homes. The report indicates government officials do not know where all the pipelines are, including those in residential areas. Much of the pipeline going through more rural areas has never been seen by any federal, state, or local inspectors. Ultimately, only about 10 percent of the pipelines carrying natural gas or other hazardous chemicals used in the fracking process fall under federal regulatory auspices. For pipeline that is not regulated, natural gas and oil companies using the pipelines are not required to report any accidents, injuries, fatalities, or dangerous releases from them.



Legal Fractures in Chemical Disclosure Laws, Harvard Law School, April 23, 2013.


Subsidies and externalities

Taxes and Tax Loopholes



Groundwater contamination

Methane leakage


  • A February 2011 study in the NY Times, based upon thousands of internal documents obtained by The Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators, and drillers, found never-reported studies by the EPA and a confidential study by the drilling industry that both concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways. The Times found that of more than 179 wells producing wastewater with high levels of radiation, at least 116 reported levels of radium or other radioactive materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking-water standards. At least 15 wells produced wastewater carrying more than 1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable.[7]


State Investigations

  • Dominic C. DiGiulio, Richard T. Wilkin, Carlyle Miller, and Gregory Oberley, Investigation of Ground Water Contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming, EPA Draft report, December 2011 - concludes that contaminants including benzene found in central Wyoming were likely caused by the fracking drilling process. Benzene exposure is strongly associated with childhood leukemia.


Water Use

Well casing failures

Wildlife impacts

Worker safety

US States

California and fracking

Colorado and fracking

  • Lisa Sumi, Inadequate enforcement means current Colorado oil and gas development is irresponsible, Earthworks Report, March 2012.
  • Lisa M. McKenziea, Roxana Z. Wittera, Lee S. Newmana, John L. Adgatea, Human Health Risk Assessment of Air Emissions from Development of Unconventional Natural Gas Resources, Science of the Total Environment, 2012 - Estimated health risks for exposures to air emissions from a gas drilling project in Garfield County, Colorado. Found that air pollution caused by fracking may contribute to acute and chronic health problems for those living near natural gas drilling sites, as monitoring found a number of potentially toxic and carcinogenic petroleum hydrocarbons in the air near oil/gas wells, including known carcinogens such as benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene. Other chemicals included heptane, octane and diethylbenzene but information on their toxicity is limited. The greatest health impact corresponds to the relatively short-term, but high emission, well completion period. The effects could include eye irritation, headaches, sore throat and difficulty breathing.[8]
  • A 2012 study to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research and led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado, Boulder, estimated that natural-gas producers in an area known as the Denver-Julesburg Basin in Colorado are losing about 4% of their natural gas to the atmosphere — not including additional losses in the pipeline and distribution system. This is more than double the official inventory of methane leakage.[9]

Massachusetts and fracking

Michigan and fracking

New Mexico and fracking

New York and fracking

Ohio and fracking

Pennsylvania and fracking

Texas and fracking

Utah and fracking

West Virginia and fracking

Wyoming and fracking



European Union

  • Potential Risks for the Environment and Human Health Arising from Hydrocarbons Operations Involving Hydraulic Fracturing in Europe, EU Joint Research Centre, 2012 - identifies eight areas in which fracking could pose a "high risk" to the environment, raising concerns over air pollution, ground water contamination, and biodiversity impacts. The report outlined a series of options for the EU to improve the regulatory framework, ranging from extending existing regulations or applying them in a different way through to introducing entirely new regulations.
  • Climate Impact of Potential Shale Gas Production in the EU, EU Joint Research Centre, 2012 - calculated that shale gas produced in the EU "causes more GHG emissions than conventional natural gas produced in the EU, but - if well managed - less than imported gas from outside the EU, be it via pipeline or by LNG due to the impacts on emissions from long-distance gas transport."
  • Unconventional Gas: Potential Energy Market Impacts in the European Union, EU Joint Research Centre, 2012 - found that a best-case scenario for shale gas drilling in the EU would only "help the EU maintain energy import dependency at around 60 per cent," adding that there is "considerable uncertainty about recoverable volumes, technological developments, public acceptance, and access to land and markets."


Related SourceWatch articles

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