GSA Critical Issue: Hydraulic Fracturing
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Potential Environmental Issues
|The hydraulic fracturing critical issue will be periodically updated.|
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Figure 16. Frac Focus home website, FracFocus.org.
Oil and gas exploration and production activity is regulated at the federal, state, and local level. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Scientific Advisory Board is studying issues related to hydraulic fracturing and has investigated complaints of possible groundwater contamination related to hydraulic fracturing. Most regulation continues to reside with state agencies, many of which have extensive experience in oil and gas regulation. The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), a multi-state commission ratified by Congress, helps states establish and coordinate regulation of the oil and gas industry. The Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) also assist in this effort. In addition, acquisition of water for hydraulic fracturing is subject to state regulation and state laws regarding water rights.
Disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing is currently exempt from federal regulations associated with the Safe Drinking Water Act. In response to public requests for disclosure of the composition of fluids used in hydraulic fracturing, the IOGCC and the GWPC established a publicly accessible hydraulic-fracturing chemical registry website called FracFocus 2.0 (FracFocus.org) (Fig. 16). At least 18 states require companies to disclose the identity of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, although all of these states protect trade secrets from disclosure because this information is considered proprietary.
Hydraulic fracturing of shale and other tight rocks has become a growing component of oil and gas energy production in the U.S., particularly in terms of natural gas production from shale. While there are potential impacts from hydraulic fracturing, most concerns relate to long-established processes used in nearly all oil and gas drilling—such as well construction or fluid disposal—and are not unique to the process of hydraulic fracturing itself. There remains, however, a significant need for accurate information dissemination, improved dialogue between consumers and producers, and ongoing research on hydraulic fracturing and its potential environmental impact. Meanwhile, peer-reviewed professional publications remain the most reliable source of scientific and technical information about hydraulic fracturing. Geologists involved in aspects of the hydraulic fracturing technology, whether in exploration and development, regulation, natural resource management, or environmental protection, are encouraged to share their knowledge with the general public and policy makers.