Science Sides with Hydraulic Fracturing

A recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concluded that neither hydraulic fracturing nor horizontal drilling is contaminating drinking water near well sites. This adds to a growing body of research showing that hydraulic fracturing is a safe way to access natural gas and oil.

National Academy of Sciences Study

Lead researcher and earth science professor Thomas Darrah found, “no unequivocal evidence” that gas in large quantities had migrated from deep shale deposits as a result of the hydraulic fracturing process.[1] Instead, the study linked drinking water contamination to “failures of annulus cement, faulty production casings, and one underground gas well failure.” Darrah also commented, “This is relatively good news because it means that most of the issues we have identified can potentially be avoided by future improvements in well integrity.”[2]

Overall, the study looked at 113 drinking water samples from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, and 20 samples from the Barnett Shale in Texas. Of the 133 samples taken, a total of 8 samples had contamination. As we have long noted, hydraulic fracturing does not cause groundwater contamination. However, there have been some problems with well construction.

Previous Science and Hydraulic Fracturing’s Safety Record

The National Academy of Sciences study is not the first scientific study that evaluated the link between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water. In 2011, a comprehensive study conducted by geologist and former regulator Scott Kell, also concluded that hydraulic fracturing  is not linked to groundwater contamination . The study, funded by the Groundwater Protection and Education Foundation says, “During their respective study periods (1993-2008 in Texas and 1983-2007 in Ohio), neither the RRC [Texas Railroad Commision] or the DMRM [Ohio Division of Mineral Resources Management] identified a single groundwater contamination incident resulting from site preparation, drilling, well construction, completion, hydraulic fracturing stimulation, or production operations at any of these horizontal shale gas wells.” However, both Texas and Ohio took steps to further regulate hydraulic fracturing because of its increased use, even though hydraulic fracturing is not linked to water contamination.

The federal government  also studied hydraulic fracturing and water contamination. In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed a four-year study analyzing whether or not there is a link between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination. It also concluded there was not. The study evaluated coal bed methane (CBM) wells – wells where the methane is extracted from coal seams – due to allegations that hydraulic fracturing of these wells affected groundwater quality.[3] Specifically, EPA stated, “…although thousands of CBM wells are fractured annually, EPA did not find confirmed evidence that drinking water wells have been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing fluid injection into CBM wells.”

Last month the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also released a report focusing on California. The BLM stated the “direct environmental impacts” of hydraulic fracturing “appear to be relatively limited.”[4] This report also found that there is “potential risk” for groundwater contamination “if usable aquifers are nearby”, but notes “there are no publicly reported instances of potable water contamination from subsurface releases in California”.[5] As a result, BLM will resume leasing activity in California for the first time since December 2012.[6]


Hydraulic fracturing has been responsible for the biggest change in energy production in decades. This revolutionary technology has reversed the decades-long decline of domestic oil production, increasing domestic natural gas production to the point that we’re actually talking about expanding natural gas exports – not just importing more.

The most recent, peer-reviewed science published in the National Academy of Sciences – along with previous studies conducted by various academics in conjunction with government agencies and non-profits – unequivocally conclude that hydraulic fracturing is safe.

This post was authored by IER Policy Associate John Glennon.

[1] Darius Dixon, Study says bad gas wells pose threat to water, Politico Pro, 9/15/14,

[2] Ohio State University, Study: Bad Wells, Not Fracking, Contaminate Groundwater, Laboratory Equipment, 9/15/14,

[3] Environmental Protection Agency, Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Resoviors Study, 2004,

[4] Scott Streater, BLM-backed report finds less impact from Calif. fracking than some fear, E&E News,  8/28/14,

[5] California Council on Science and Technology, Well Stimulation in California, 2014,

[6] Scott Streator, BLM to resume Calif. leasing in wake of fracking science report, E&E News, 8/29,14, .

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