Fugitive emissions from hydraulic fracturing: Current knowledge and policy implications

Recent innovations in drilling technology, especially staged hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and horizontal drilling, have unlocked unconventional resources of oil and natural gas.  These developments represent a revolutionary moment in the energy industry, both in the United States and worldwide, as vast reserves of previously inaccessible oil and gas are now within reach.

While these advancements carry the promise of a more prosperous future, there is considerable debate over the potential effects of so-called “fugitive emissions” from fracking operations.  The primary concerns involve whether fugitive emissions will influence climate change or cause harmful health impacts.  Based on a review of recent academic research, as well as government and industry reports, it appears the EPA regulations set in place in late 2012 should mitigate the volume of fugitive emissions and that additional regulation is unnecessary. The review also suggests the following conclusions:

  • Fugitive emissions could indeed increase the GHG footprint of the natural gas industry, but not as much as some recent alarmist reports.
  • More importantly, fugitive emissions and natural gas facility leaks have been associated with harmful public health impacts.
  • Rules set in place in late 2012 decrease fugitive emissions by 95 percent at each well, making  additional regulation of hydraulic fracturing at natural gas wells unnecessary.
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