What environmental issues are associated with hydraulic fracturing?

The actual practice of hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) is only a small part of the overall process of drilling, completing, and producing an oil and gas well.

Environmental issues that are specifically related to hydraulic fracturing include:

  • water availability
  • spills of chemicals at the surface
  • impacts of sand mining for use in the hydraulic fracturing process
  • surface water quality degradation from waste fluid disposal
  • groundwater quality degradation
  • induced seismicity from the injection of waste fluids into deep disposal wells

Any kind of oil and gas drilling can additionally cause:

  • reduced air quality
  • noise
  • night sky light pollution
  • landscape changes such as forest fragmentation
  • disruption to wildlife corridors and habitats

It is important to note that not all of these potential impacts occur at every site and many impacts can be avoided or mitigated with the proper practices.

 

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The Chemistry of Waters that Follow from Fracking: A Case Study

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Image: Hydraulic Fracturing Operation Underway
March 14, 2016

A hydraulic fracturing operation is underway at this drilling pad in the Marcellus Shale gas play of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Image: Hydraulic Fracturing Drill Site
March 14, 2016

A typical drill pad in the Marcellus Shale gas play of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Image: Hydraulic Fracturing Well Heads
March 14, 2016

Well heads hooked up in preparation for a hydraulic fracturing operation at a drill pad in the Fayetteville Shale gas play of Arkansas.

Image: Withdrawing Water for Hydraulic Fracturing
March 14, 2016

Equipment set up to pump water from a lake to an impoundment for hydraulic fracturing in the Fayetteville Shale of Arkansas.

USGS scientist collecting water samples on a wastewater disposal facility
June 18, 2014

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist collecting water samples on a wastewater disposal facility in West Virginia to assess potential environmental impacts due to activities at the site. Shifts in the overall microbial community structure were present in stream sediments that contained chemicals associated with unconventional oil and gas wastewaters.

video thumbnail: Science or Soundbite? Shale Gas, Hydraulic Fracturing, and Induced Earthquakes
April 3, 2012

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting wells with water, sand, and chemicals at very high pressure. This process creates fractures in deeply buried rocks to allow for the extraction of oil and natural gas as well as geothermal energy. USGS scientists discuss the opportunities and impact associated with hydraulic fracturing. Doug Duncan, associate coordinator for the USGS Energy Resources Program, addresses the increasing role that unconventional oil and gas resources play in the nation's petroleum endowment. USGS hydrologist Dennis Risser discusses some of the major water availability and quality challenges associated with natural gas development, with a focus on the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. Bill Leith, associate coordinator the USGS Hazards Program, concludes by discussing the potential connection between disposal of waste fluids from hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes.