Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy


Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the current technology of choice for developing most shale gas reserves. This technology allows increased production of natural gas from formerly inaccessible shale formations. One of the primary environmental impacts of concern for fracking is its potential to contaminate water.

This paper focuses on the potential risks affecting the drinking-water resources throughout the complete lifecycle of a drilled and fractured well. Given the significant environmental concerns, fracking risk assessment (what we know about the risk), and fracking risk management (what we wish to do about the risk) appear to be indispensable steps for the enactment of any environmental statute or regulation addressing such high-stake environmental problems and public concerns.

The federal government currently exempts most fracking activities from regulation, and therefore, states remain free to regulate practices as they see fit. This has resulted in a patchwork of state regulations, where each state enacts various requirements for wastewater disposal, underground injection, water supply acquisition, drilling, casing, and operating wells. The various state fracking regulations fall along a spectrum from outright statewide bans to laissez-faire approaches. This paper includes a comparative analysis of state fracking regulations in three states in the United States: New York, Texas, and Illinois.

Having demonstrated the shortcomings of the current state-centric system regulating the shale gas fracking, the present paper advances forward both structural and substantive changes to enhance fracking risk assessment and management in the U.S.

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