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Policy Statement 539 - Hydraulic Fracturing

 

Approved by the Energy, Environment and Water Policy Committee on March 15, 2018
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on May 6, 2018
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 13, 2018

Policy

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports the use of sound 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 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 at all levels of government;
  • The promotion of research and studies on the human health, environmental and water resource conservation impacts associated with both surface and subsurface hydraulic fracturing activities; and
  • The determination of the cumulative impact of multiple drilling operations within a single groundwater basin or watershed. 

Establish:

  • Independent scientific advisory committees representing all stakeholders to recommend regulations and laws pertaining to hydraulic fracturing at all levels of government;
  • Well and associated infrastructure construction, use and decommissioning standards to protect sources of drinking water and to prevent methane loss to the atmosphere; and
  • Site closure and restoration standards. 

Enforce:

  • Full public disclosure of all chemicals and other propping agents in the fracturing fluid;
  • The controlled handling, use, and disposal of chemicals in the hydraulic fracturing process in order to protect the environment;
  • 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; and
  • 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. Water is used in this process in five stages of hydraulic fracturing: (1) acquisition of surface or ground water for the fracturing fluids; (2) mixing of water, chemicals and proppant to create the fracturing fluid; (3) injection of fracturing fluids into the well; (4) management of flowback and produced water; and (5) reuse, treatment and discharge, or disposal of the fracturing wastewater. Each phase presents a potential or actual threat to impact surface and groundwater resources and human health. In addition, a growing body of evidence links earthquakes to hydraulic fracturing and/or deepwell injection activity. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately one million wells have been hydraulically fractured in the United States since the technique was developed in the late 1940s. In recent years, hydraulic fracturing has been carried out on 20,000 to 30,000 new wells and approximately 25,000 existing wells annually to increase production. EPA reports that over 60% of new oil and gas wells are likely to be hydraulically fractured, and this percentage may be over 90% in some locations.

In general, comprehensive data or research on hydraulic fracturing activities and their effects on drinking water resources are not available. Recent EPA estimates, however, 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. 

A December 2016 report by EPA entitled "Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States," synthesized available data and literature on the operation and potential accidents associated with hydraulic fracturing to assess the potential and actual impacts hydraulic fracturing activities have on drinking water resources and to inform federal, state, tribal and local officials, as well as industry and the public, on how best to protect drinking water resources now and in the future.  Based on available data and information, EPA did not find evidence that the five stages of hydraulic fracturing have widespread, systematic impacts on drinking water resources. However, the report indicates this finding was based on very limited data and information. Further, due to limited data, or the inaccessibility of data due to confidentiality, EPA could not adequately assess potential or actual harm to human health by the 1,076 chemicals reported used during hydraulic fracturing activities.  

EPA found that fracturing operations and chemicals used vary significantly depending on the location and characteristics of the oil/gas bearing 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.

Advancement in data, research and information regarding the impacts of hydraulic fracturing will become the basis for decisions by all levels of government to develop appropriate rulemaking and regulations at all levels to protect human health and the environment.

ASCE Policy Statement 539
First Approved 2012

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