Untested Waters: The Rise of Hydraulic Fracturing in Oil and Gas Production and the Need to Revisit Regulation
55 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2010 Last revised: 12 Apr 2015
Date Written: September 23, 2008
As the hunt for important unconventional gas resources in America expands, an increasingly popular method of wringing resources from stubborn underground formations is a process called hydraulic fracturing – also described as hydrofracturing, fracking, or fracing – wherein fluids are pumped at high pressure underground to fracture a formation and release trapped oil or gas. Operators have fraced wells for more than fifty years, but the practice has recently grown rapidly in areas like the Barnett Shale of North Central Texas and the Marcellus Shale beneath Pennsylvania, New York, and other Appalachian states. This Article describes the process of hydraulic fracturing, existing studies of the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing, and the laws and regulations that apply to the practice. It argues that there is no direct federal regulation of the fracing process (the pumping of fluids into a wellbore), that court guidance in this area is limited, and that state regulations differ substantially. Although other general regulations apply to the practice, the Article argues that in light of the dearth of regulation specific to fracturing in some areas, more study of the potential environmental and human health effects of fracing is needed in order to determine whether current regulation is sufficient. The EPA completed a partial study in 2004, but this Article focuses on the deficiencies of that study and calls for a new, national, scientific study of the practice.
Keywords: hydraulic fracturing, fracing, fracking
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