In the midst of aggressive anti-drilling campaigns by environmental organizations and well-publicized complaints by citizens unaccustomed to oil and gas operations, rigorous studies of unconventional oil and gas development show that there are no widespread or systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States. In addition, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have significantly declined with the growth in natural gas production and its use in power generation. Furthermore, induced seismicity from subsurface waste disposal has plummeted in response to industry initiatives and new regulations. This record of environmental protection reflects the fact that U.S. hydraulic fracturing, like other oil and gas operations, is highly regulated by the states. In addition, air emissions, operations on federal lands, and subsurface injection are subject to federal regulation.
Academic and government researchers have documented that chemicals and gas produced by hydraulic fracturing are not contaminating drinking water. However, as an added complication, methane occurs naturally in drinking water aquifers in some producing areas. In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed a four-year study of potential aquifer contamination from hydraulic fracturing and associated industry operations. The report found some impacts on drinking water including contamination of drinking water wells; however, the number of cases was small compared to the number of wells hydraulically fractured. The scientific peer-review and public critique of the study, which continues after more than a year, may recommend additional research.
The emotionally charged, anti-fracking campaigns provided important lessons to U.S. operators: pre-drilling, baseline data on water and air quality are essential to answering public concerns; infrastructure issues such as increased truck traffic on small, local roads are important to residents; and the initial failure to disclose the composition of hydraulic fracturing fluid intensified public concern.