States Getting a Little Tougher on Fracking

The practice of fracking, or extracting natural gas from underground shale by fracturing the rock, has become increasingly popular as technology has improved to make it cost-effective. However, despite the promise of creating thousands of jobs, it remains highly controversial. 

After several years of little accountability, states are starting to push either for a moratorium on fracking until the environmental effects can be examined, as in California, or imposing new regulations such as requiring a permit and requiring disclosure of some information. Illinois passed SB 1715 in July 2013 which has the toughest regulations on the industry thus far. It increases the accountability of drillers by making them liable for any water pollution they cause, requires them to disclose what chemicals they use and to test the water before and after fracking, and requires a permit, as well as other restrictions.

However, these regulations fall far short of the demands of environmentalists, who have called for a complete stop to the practice due to their concern that it releases toxic chemicals into water supplies. Another concern is the small earthquakes associated with fracking sites. This is not due to the extraction itself, but the injection of wastewater into underground wells which cause fault lines to become unstable, and has already been observed in Oklahamoa, Arkansas, Ohio, Texas, and Colorado. A recent study from Columbia University funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey provides more evidence of a link between wastewater injection sites and earthquakes.  They also found that these earthquakes have the possibility to be much stronger than they usually are, such as the 5.7 magnitude earthquake in Prague, Oklahoma in 2011, the largest earthquake ever recorded in Oklahoma, which destroyed 14 homes and was linked to wastewater injection. Legislation has so far not addressed the issue of earthquakes, but if the number and magnitude of earthquakes continue to grow, they will have to.