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Research & Commentary: Studies Find Fracking in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas Not Contaminating Groundwater

June 28, 2017

USGS, TAMEST Studies Find No Examples Of Groundwater Contamination Due To Fracking

Two new reports released in May and June 2017 found no examples of contamination of groundwater due to hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.

The first study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 2015 and 2016, collected samples from 116 different wells at random sites across the Eagle Ford (Texas), Fayetteville (Arkansas), and Haynesville (Louisiana) shale formations and determined the methane and benzene detected in the wells were most likely naturally occurring and not the result of fracking.

“[Unconventional oil and gas] operations did not contribute substantial amounts of methane or benzene to the sample drinking-water wells,” the study states. “Most of the methane detected in groundwater was from naturally occurring microbial sources at shallow depths rather than deep shale gas.

“The highest benzene concentration detected in any water sample,” the study continued, “was … nearly 40 times lower than the federal drinking water standard.”

The second study, conducted by the Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas (TAMEST), concluded “direct migration of contaminants from targeted injection zones is highly unlikely to lead to contamination of potential drinking water aquifers.” Of 211 incidents of groundwater contamination in Texas, none were associated with fracking.

The existing peer-reviewed evidence shows hydraulic fracturing processes do not pose a systemic impact on groundwater. Since 2010, at least 19 of these studies have been produced. These studies are reinforced by the Environmental Protection Agency’s own $29-million, six-year study of fracking’s impact on groundwater sources, which 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.

The TAMEST study also examined the economic impacts fracking has had on the Lone Star State. “In 2014 alone,” the study says, “production in the Permian, Eagle Ford, and Haynesville shale play areas accounted for more than $27 billion in royalty payments to private landowners, or more than two-thirds of the royalties from America’s leading shale oil and gas plays.” Further, the study continued, “since 2001, the cumulative effects of Barnett Shale-related activities have been $110.7 billion in gross product and about 993,600 person-years of employment. Tax revenues within the region were estimated at roughly $4.5 billion for local governments and more than $6 billion for the state.” 

This data reinforces a study released in late December 2016 of communities near shale basins – conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – 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 as a replacement for coal has been primarily responsible for the United States now enjoying its lowest level of carbon-dioxide emissions since 1989. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), fracking now accounts for 51 percent of all U.S. crude oil production. EIA also estimates the continuing switch of electricity-generation fuels to fracking-produced natural gas is responsible for 63 percent of the drop in U.S. energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions over the past decade. The oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing has enabled us to exploit are cost-effective and abundant, and they can ensure the United States is the world’s largest energy producer well beyond the 21st century.

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, provide $1,300–$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.

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 been created and $548 billion in annual GDP may have disappeared since 2009. Electricity prices would also be 31 percent higher and gasoline prices 43 percent higher.

Hydraulic Fracturing a Game-Changer for U.S. Energy and Economies
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/hydraulic-fracturing-a-game-changer-for-us-energy-and-economies?source=policybot
In this Policy Study from The Heartland Institute, Heartland Research Fellow Isaac Orr explains the advantages and disadvantages of smart drilling and its alternatives. Orr reviews the background and potential of hydraulic fracturing in the United States and puts that potential in the context of the supply of and demand for oil and gas. He addresses the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing, both positive and negative, as well as the public safety issues raised by activists, such as potential harm to drinking water supplies. Orr also discusses how oil and gas production is regulated at the state and national levels and suggests appropriate policies for the industry.

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.

Research & Commentary: Study on Fracking-Related Air Pollution in Ohio Retracted Due to Errors
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/research--commentary-study-on-fracking-related-air-pollution-in-ohio-retracted-due-to-errors?source=policybot
Tim Benson, policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, writes about a  joint study from researchers at Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati  – originally published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Technology in March 2015 – claimed hydraulic fracturing, also called “fracking,” of the Utica shale in Carroll County, Ohio is causing significant air pollution. But the researchers have retracted the controversial study due to its numerous miscalculations and errors. When much of the erroneous data was corrected, the researchers found they “significantly” changed “air concentrations … relative to those reported in the published article.”

Fracking Facts: The Science, Economics, and Legal Realities
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/fracking-facts-the-science-economics-and-legal-realities?source=policybot
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, has been employed in the United States since the 1940s. Although innovation has improved the precision of the process, the essentials are the same. Utilizing horizontal drilling, a mixture of mostly water, sand, and trace amounts of chemicals, are used to create fissures in underground shale deposits to allow oil and natural gas trapped in hard rock to move toward the surface to be collected. Activists have blamed fracking and the processes associated with it for emissions of pollutants, earthquakes, and even groundwater contamination, though independent evidence consistently shows these allegations to be false. Leigh Thompson of the Texas Public Policy Foundation argues the evidence supporting fracking bans looks slim when attention is drawn to the facts.

 

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.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact John Nothdurft, Heartland’s director of government relations, at john@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.

Author
Tim Benson joined The Heartland Institute in September 2015 as a policy analyst in the Government Relations Department.
TBenson@heartland.org