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Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids - Environmental, Health and Engineering Issues


September 13, 2010

Hydraulic fracturing is a well stimulation operation in which fluids are pumped through a well to low-permeability formations at sufficiently high pressure to create new fractures in rock, or to open existing natural fractures, so that greater volumes of oil or natural gas can be produced. Hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells has been understood and used for more than 60 years, and it is well known that this operation can make otherwise non-economic wells financially viable. Recently, however, the U.S. Congress directed the EPA to take a new look at the health and environmental issues related to hydraulic fracturing  in the Marcellus Shale region beneath Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio and other shale reserves around the country. There is great concern that the process can poison private wells and water aquifers.


Issues are being raised by community and environmental action groups regarding possible health and environmental effects associated with chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations, as well as with the potential leakage of fracturing fluids into drinking-water aquifers, and the discharge of fracturing fluids after use. Currently, hydraulic fracturing operations and associated fluids are covered by state oil and gas regulatory programs, and are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.


Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would change the regulation of these fluids. Additionally, legislation governing disclosure of fluid composition, permitting requirements for use and disposal, and requirements for preliminary environmental assessments are under development in a number of states relating to development of the Marcellus, Barnett, Black Warrior, Powder River, and Eagle Ford Basins, among others.


Exponent’s engineers and scientists can facilitate the evaluation of all scientific and regulatory aspects of hydraulic fracturing. Our consultants have significant experience working in and consulting for the oil and gas industry, and understand both the technical and operational aspects of the issues. For more information on our experience in this area, click here.

Additional information can be also found on the Environmental Protection Agency website.