Approved by the Energy, Environment and Water Policy Committee on March 30, 2021
Approved by the Public Policy and Practice Committee on May 4, 2021
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 16, 2021

Policy

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports the use of good engineering and industry practices that protect public health, safety, water resources, and the environment during the exploration and production of oil and natural gas energy resources, including by means of hydraulic fracturing. ASCE recommends that current methods and regulations at all levels of government be reviewed, revised, or enhanced, as needed, to support:

  • The implementation of cooperative state and federal monitoring and data collection programs to guide rulemaking and regulation. 
  • The promotion of research and studies on the human health, environmental, ecosystem, and water resources impacts associated with both surface and subsurface hydraulic fracturing activities.
  • The determination of the cumulative impact of multiple drilling operations within a single groundwater basin or watershed. 
  • Independent scientific advisory committees representing all stakeholders to recommend best practices, regulations and laws pertaining to hydraulic fracturing.
  • Use and decommissioning standards to protect sources of drinking water and to prevent methane loss to the atmosphere.
  • Site development, closure, and restoration standards.
  • Full public disclosure of all chemicals and other propping agents used in the fracturing fluid.
  • The reduction of the freshwater footprint for each fracturing operation through reuse of the flowback fluid. 
  • The safe treatment and disposal of used fracturing fluids, flowback fluids, and producer well waters.
  • Adequate controls over stormwater runoff and overflow from the well site.

Issue

Hydraulic fracturing is a process used to increase the production of oil and natural gas through the injection of fluids under pressures great enough to fracture the geologic formations containing oil and gas. The use of these processes has greatly accelerated since 2010, mainly due to innovations in horizontal drilling.  Demands for clean energy through natural gas has driven rapid and intense hydraulic fracturing operations in regions of the U.S., which makes up about 67% of the nation’s natural gas production according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  The U.S. now claims energy independence and is an exporter of energy with limited reliance on foreign sources of energy.  

Recent EPA estimates show that between 2000 and 2013, hydraulic fracturing had occurred within one mile of approximately 3,900 public water systems serving more than 8.6 million people. Although, a December 2016 report by EPA did not find evidence that hydraulic fracturing had widespread, systematic impacts on drinking water resources, the report indicates that this finding was based on very limited data and information. However, EPA found scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances. 

EPA found that fracturing operations and chemicals used vary significantly depending on the location and characteristics of the oil/gas bearing geologic formations. Location, age, construction, and operation of the well will also have a significant impact on the protection of water resources from hydraulic fracturing practices. The EPA report did not review current or proposed regulations. However, the report indicated that many activities associated with hydraulic fracturing may be done in accordance with federal, state, or local regulations or policies, indicating there are no uniform federal or state requirements to control or regulate hydraulic fracturing activities.

Rationale

There is a need for improved pre- and post-hydraulic fracturing monitoring and reporting, as well as required reporting of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and additional research regarding the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources and human health.  

Due to the potential hazards to the environment and public health from hydraulic fracturing activities, increased regulation and oversight is needed. However, given the regional variability of site conditions and operations associated with these activities by state and areas within a state, greater efforts are needed towards developing a national regulatory program for these activities. 

ASCE Policy Statement 539
First Approved 2012