Hydraulic Fracturing: What’s Up?

March 12, 2021

Paulina Hruskoci, Eco Rep

Caitlin Griffith, Sustainability Coordinator


A fracking rig.

Image: A fracking rig, iStock Images

This past election cycle, one issue was at the forefront of the environmental policy debate: hydraulic fracturing, or as it’s commonly known, fracking. Rumors that presidential candidate Joe Biden would ban the practice threatened to ruin his chances of winning crucial swing states with high levels of fracking activity.

Fracking has become a hot topic issue for policy experts in recent years, and yet there still exists no cohesive national policy approach to the practice. Even expansive regulations such as the 2005 Energy Policy Act and Safe Drinking Water Act exempted fracking from restriction. For that reason, policy surrounding such drilling has historically fallen upon municipal governments. Some areas have incentivized hydraulic fracturing to spur economic growth, whereas others have implemented tax policy, zoning laws, and even bans on the activity to protect public health.

Since coming into office, Joe Biden has taken some action to prevent the practice. An executive order issued by his administration paused all oil and gas drilling on federal lands. Public land drilling accounts for 25% of the United States’ carbon emissions, so this action could make a significant impact in reduction. That being said, there has been no discussion yet of what exactly will be done about fracking.

So, what exactly is fracking? In order to extract gas from underground, water and sand is injected at a high pressure after drilling. The rock is fractured from the process, releasing shale gas that can be used for energy. Hydraulic fracturing has received some positive press for boosting production domestically, reducing gas prices, and increasing energy security. The practice can also create jobs, in turn having positive impact on the economy. That being said, there has been research to tie a variety of environmental externalities to the harmful practice. Below are just a few of the issues that have been tied to fracking:

These issues have been proven to disproportionately impact low-income and minority communities, primarily communities of color. Environmental justice must be at the forefront of fracking policy solutions.

In the next few years, it will be interesting to see whether federal action is taken to reduce fracking activity across the country. I will certainly be keeping my eyes on the news as further action develops. In addition to the resources linked throughout this piece, I also recommend checking out FracFocus, a national registry for fracking activity and resulting chemical contamination.



“Biden Signs ‘Existential’ Executive Orders on Climate and Environment.” BBC News, BBC, 27 January 2021, www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55829189.

Brady, Jeff. “Proposals To Ban Fracking Could Hurt Democrats In Key States.” NPR, NPR, 11 February 2020, www.npr.org/2020/02/11/804487306/proposals-to-ban-fracking-could-hurt-democrats-in-key-states.

C&EN, cen.acs.org/environment/water/Wastewater-fracking-Growing-disposal-challenge/97/i45.

Coleman, Jesse. “Colorado Fracking Companies Admit to Major Air Pollution Problem, Emissions Rules Proposed.” Greenpeace USA, 4 September 2018, www.greenpeace.org/usa/colorado-fracking-companies-admit-to-major-air-pollution-problem-emissions-rules-proposed/.

“The Costs of Fracking.” Environment America, environmentamerica.org/sites/environment/files/exp/reports/costs_of_fracking.html.

FracFocus, fracfocus.org.

“Fracking’s Environmental Impacts: Water.” Greenpeace USA, www.greenpeace.org/usa/ending-the-climate-crisis/issues/fracking/environmental-impacts-water/.

Greenstone, Michael. “Fracking Has Its Costs And Benefits — The Trick Is Balancing Them.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 20 February 2018,www.forbes.com/sites/ucenergy/2018/02/20/fracking-has-its-costs-and-benefits-the-trick-is-balancing-them/?sh=69abd02f19b4.

Osborn, Stephen G., et al. “Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-Well Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing.” PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America] , National Academy of Sciences, 17 May 2011, www.pnas.org/content/108/20/8172.

“Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA [Safe Drinking Water Act] ).” EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] , Environmental Protection Agency, 6 October 2020, www.epa.gov/sdwa.

“Summary of the Energy Policy Act.” EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] , Environmental Protection Agency, 13 December 2019, www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-energy-policy-act.

“What Is Fracking and Why Is It Controversial?” BBC News, BBC, 15 October 2018, www.bbc.com/news/uk-14432401.

Zwickl, Klara. “The Demographics of Fracking: A Spatial Analysis for Four U.S. States.” Ecological Economics, Elsevier, 6 April 2019, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S092180091830661X.


< More News