Back to Publications

State Regulatory Issues Related to Drilling For Shale Gas and Hydraulic Fracturing

Christopher S. Kulander, Water-Energy Nexus: Acquisition, Use, and Disposal of Water for Energy and Mineral Development

Extraction of oil and natural gas from shale and coal and other formations previously thought to be unproductive is an American revolution. The resultant boom employs hundreds of thousands of people in good paying jobs nationwide and significantly reduces the United States' dependence on hydrocarbons imported from unstable and unfriendly countries. This revolution has the side effect of potentially harming freshwater assets if the related technology is not deployed correctly, however, and the states wherein shale hydrocarbon development is occurring are scrambling to establish regulatory schemes to protect their freshwater. Advancements in two different technologies, horizontal and directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, have allowed widespread development of hydrocarbons in strata previously thought to be too impermeable for commercial development.

How states are reacting to hydraulic fracturing, a secondary recovery process used to extract hydrocarbons from shale and other impermeable rock, to protect their water assets is the subject of this paper. Before examining the laws and rules of a dozen select states wherein extensive shale development operations are prevalent, however, this report briefly describes both horizontal drilling and the hydraulic fracturing process and how such fracturing has--and may in the future--affect surface and groundwater. Followin