Protecting Groundwater: A Guide To Fracking Risks And Best Practices

by Tom Kenworthy

As controversy over the use of hydraulic fracturing mounts across the U.S., the Natural Resources Defense Council has produced a handy fact sheet on best practices that can reduce risks of pollution from the technique.

The four-page publication details the various risks to both surface and underground water from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is used in oil and gas drilling operations and has become more widespread with the development of large new reserves found in shale rock formations.

Fracking is used to stimulate oil and gas production and involves the injection of a mix of water, chemicals and sand underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release the oil or gas.

Risks to surface water supplies include depletion of fresh water supplies, spills of fracking chemicals, and leaks of flowback fluids that can include fracking chemicals once the well is completed. Threats to underground water supplies can come when wells are poorly constructed, when fractures extend farther than planned, and when old oil and gas wells that have been capped serve as a migration corridor for fracking fluids used in new wells nearby.

In order to avoid those possible problems, NRDC recommends, among other things, that the public be fully informed of chemicals used in fracking, that fracking be regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, and that wastes associated with oil and gas development be regulated under federal and state hazardous waste laws.

In addition, NRDC lists many best industry practices that should be uniformly used, including better site planning and analysis, careful well construction, cementing and casing, and proper handling of wastewater.

This list of recommendations is a must-read for industry, policymakers, and environmental groups.

Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow at American Progress.


5 Responses to Protecting Groundwater: A Guide To Fracking Risks And Best Practices

  1. Gail says:

    Fracking should be banned, period. The NRDC has sold out, it’s disgusting that people make donations to a huge member of Gangrene thinking they are doing something to help the environment when the staff is in bed with big corporations pushing the sham of “regulation”.

  2. Paul Klinkman says:

    I’m sorry, NRDC, but you missed a biggie for best practices. Companies regularly overdo their fracking and this results in “dry wells”. What dry wells should be called are giant climate-killing methane leaks into the earth’s atmosphere. Best practice is (at the minimum) to under-frack, but don’t ever have a dry well from over-fracking if possible.

    Best practice most likely is not to frack at all.

  3. Lisa Wright says:

    While “reducing risks” would seem uncontroversial to all of us who are concerned about the negative aspects of coal–to-gas conversion/increased use of NG, a source of controversy lies in the bizarre disconnect in which key environmental groups willfully minimize climate change implications related to continuation and expansion of unconventional gas exploration and development.

  4. It is ironic at best to try to apply the concept of best practices to a practice that will inherently push atmospheric CO2 past the tipping points.

    So many people and groups trying to mitigate the collateral damage of fossil fuel exploitation.

    Is all this effort to strap down the monster with bandaids really the best we can do?