Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a well stimulation process used to obtain natural resources from underground geological formations. Although used in several different applications, including the extraction of oil and geothermal energy, hydraulic fracturing in natural gas production from shale formations has recently taken center stage. It is estimated that shale gas will comprise over 20% of the total U.S. gas supply by 2020 (Energy Information Administration, 2009). As hydraulic fracturing has expanded, the public, media, and Congress have expressed rising concerns about the practice. Allegations of natural gas entering private water supplies, well explosions, and polluted streams ...view middle of the document...
In the case of shale production, wells may be drilled vertically or combined with horizontal or directional sections. Wells may be drilled up to 10,000 feet below the earth‟s surface and may extend several thousand feet away from the production well (ProPublica, 2010). Next, fracking fluid is injected into the well at a high pressure to create fractures in the shale. Anywhere from 1.2 to 3.5 million gallons of water may be used in a single fracking project (Andrews, 2009). The fluid is mainly composed of sand and water, with some chemicals added for a variety of purposes, such as preventing corrosion or shale deposits in the well piping (Ground Water Protection Council and ALL Consulting, 2009). The sand in the mixture helps to hold the fractures open so that natural gas is free to escape from the shale up the well. Along with the natural gas, anywhere from 15-80% of the fracking fluids are returned to the surface. This is called the flowback water and it is stored in open pits or tanks. It may be transported to The use of hydraulic fracturing has rapidly increased in the last few years to access unconventional sources of natural gas, including tight-gas, coal-bed methane, and shale formations. Production of natural gas from unconventional sources has grown almost 65% in the last decade, so that unconventional production now composes 46% of the total U.S. production (Ground Water Protection Council and ALL Consulting, 2009). Figure 3 illustrates the large increases in unconventional gas production anticipated for the future. There are several reasons for this expansion. For one, natural gas is cleaner burning than coal or oil and can be produced domestically. In fact, natural gas emits half as much CO2 as coal and 30% less than fuel oil
Water is involved in numerous stages of hydraulic fracturing. Propublica credit Al Granberg, 2010. (Ground Water Protection Council and ALL Consulting, 2009). Therefore, natural gas could significantly reduce our country’s carbon emissions. Further, the U.S. has abundant natural gas reserves, which could lower our dependence on foreign countries for energy. Hydraulic fracturing is needed to access unconventional natural gas resources. In the past, natural gas was mainly extracted from “conventional sources,” like sandstone and other rocks close to the earth‟s surface.
EPA is in a difficult position when it comes to making a policy decision about hydraulic fracturing for several reasons. First, the current governmental policy for hydraulic fracturing is unclear. EPA lacks authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to regulate fracking operations.
The Act, passed by Congress in 1974, is one of EPA‟s primary tools for “regulating what can and cannot be injected into the ground” to ensure a safe drinking water supply (Tronche, 2009).
However, hydraulic fracturing operations are exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is due to an amendment in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which specified that the term