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Research & Commentary: New Studies Confirm the Safety of Fracking in Pennsylvania

June 20, 2018

Studies From Yale, Penn State Conclude Fracking Not Contaminating Groundwater In The Marcellus Shale Region

Two new peer-reviewed studies released within weeks of each other show the hydraulic fracturing process, commonly called “fracking,” is not contaminating groundwater in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania.

The first study, from researchers at Penn State University and published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, analyzed data from 11,000 groundwater samples taken from 1,385 natural gas wells in Bradford County. The Penn State researchers found “no statistically significant deleterious impact on ten analytes related to the aggressive increase in development of unconventional shale-gas since 2008.” They also found “an overall trend of improving water quality in the county, “despite heavy Marcellus Shale development.”

The second study, from researchers at Yale University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed eight monitoring wells in Susquehanna County during a two-year period before and after seven natural gas wells were drilled and brought into production. They concluded, “our observations suggest that SGD [shale gas development] was an unlikely source of methane in our valley wells.”

While some methane fluctuations could have been related to fracking, the researchers determined these “appeared to be ephemeral, restricted to the proximity of the well pad, and too small to constitute a water-quality concern.” Further, they noted “naturally occurring methane in valley settings, where regional flow systems interact with local flow systems, is more variable in concentration and composition both temporally and spatially than previously understood.”

The existing peer-reviewed evidence clearly shows hydraulic fracturing processes do not impose a systemic impact on groundwater. Since 2010, over two dozen independent studies have failed to find any systemic impact caused by the 110,000 oil and natural gas wells that have been in use across the country since 2011. Moreover, they are affirmed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s own $29 million, six-year study of fracking’s benign impact on groundwater sources.

Further, another study from Penn State researchers in 2017 concludes methane leakage emissions from natural gas wells and infrastructure in the Marcellus Shale are associated with just 0.4 percent of total production, which is notably low. According to data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, the Appalachian Basin, which includes both the Marcellus and Utica shale plays, have dropped by 63 percent between 2011 and 2016. 

While fracking isn’t contaminating groundwater near drilling sites, it is providing large economic gains for many communities. A December 2016 study conducted  by researchers at the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology determined hydraulic fracturing activity brings $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including “a 7 percent increase in average income, driven by rises in wages and royalty payments, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.” 

The fracking process has transformed the energy outlook of the United States over the past decade, and the rise of shale gas has been primarily responsible for the United States now enjoying its lowest level of carbon-dioxide emissions since 1989.

The oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing has enabled us to unearth and use are cost-effective and abundant, and they can ensure the United States is the world’s largest energy producer well beyond the 21st century. Policymakers should make sure not to put unnecessary and harmful regulatory burdens on industries such as the natural gas and oil industries, which are safe, responsible, and have had an enormous positive impact on the economy at the macro and micro levels.

The following documents provide more information about hydraulic fracturing.

The Local Economic and Welfare Consequences of Hydraulic Fracturing
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-local-economic-and-welfare-consequences-of-hydraulic-fracturing
This comprehensive study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research says fracking brings, on average, $1,300 to $1,900 in annual benefits to local households, including a 7 percent increase in average income, a 10 percent increase in employment, and a 6 percent increase in housing prices.

Local Fiscal Effects of a Drilling Downturn: Local Government Impacts of Decreased Oil and Gas Activity in Five U.S. Shale Regions
http://www.rff.org/files/document/file/RFF%20Rpt-SPF.pdf
This study from Resources for the Future finds 82 percent of communities in the five largest shale regions in the United States experienced a net fiscal benefit from hydraulic fracturing despite there having been a large drop in oil and natural gas commodity prices starting in 2014.

Impacts of the Natural Gas and Oil Industry on the U.S. Economy in 2015
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/impacts-of-the-natural-gas-and-oil-industry-on-the-us-economy-in-2015
This study, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, shows that the natural gas and oil industry supported 10.3 million U.S. jobs in 2015. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average wage paid by the natural gas and oil industry, excluding retail station jobs, was $101,181 in 2016, which is nearly 90 percent more than the national average. The study also shows the natural gas and oil industry has had widespread impacts in each of the 50 states.

What If … Hydraulic Fracturing Was Banned?
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/what-if-hydraulic-fracturing-was-banned
This study is the fourth in a series of studies produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy. It examines what a nationwide ban on hydraulic fracturing would entail. The report’s authors found by 2022, a ban would cause 14.8 million jobs to “evaporate,” almost double gasoline and electricity prices, and increase natural gas prices by 400 percent. Moreover, cost of living expenses would increase by nearly $4,000 per family, household incomes would be reduced by $873 billion, and GDP would be reduced by $1.6 trillion.

What If … America’s Energy Renaissance Never Happened?
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/what-ifamericas-energy-renaissance-never-actually-happened
This report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy examines the impact the development of shale oil and gas has had on the United States. The report’s authors found that without the fracking-related “energy renaissance,” 4.3 million jobs in the United States may not have ever been created and $548 billion in annual GDP would have been lost since 2009. The report also found electricity prices would be 31 percent higher and gasoline prices 43 percent higher.

Bill McKibben’s Terrifying Disregard for Fracking Facts
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/bill-mckibbens-terrifying-disregard-for-fracking-facts?source=policybot
This Heartland Institute Policy Study, written by Research Fellow Isaac Orr, examines how methane emissions are measured, reports the effect those emissions may have on global warming, and discusses several falsehoods journalist Bill McKibben repeats from the discredited movie Gasland. It also evaluates the available fracking alternatives and discusses the relatively small impact new methane-emissions rules enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency will likely have on Earth’s climate.

Compendium of Studies Demonstrating the Safety and Health Benefits of Fracking
http://eidhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Positive-Health-Compendium.pdf
This compendium from Energy in Depth features data from 23 peer-reviewed studies, 17 government health and regulatory agencies, and reports from 10 research institutions that demonstrate fracking is linked to numerous health benefits.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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