There is very little federal oversight of fracking, and because of this there has been a lot of pressure on states to develop their own policy. The Marcellus Shale region spans several states, and each one has different policies regarding fracking. To fully understand the current management of hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale region, it is necessary to review Pennsylvania’s, New York’s, West Virginia’s, Virginia’s, Maryland’s, and Ohio’s state policies regarding hydraulic fracturing.
Before a company begins drilling in an area, they first are required to do a basic water quality test; however, no test afterward is required, so there is no data to compare that baseline to (Fracking Regulations by State-ALS). Another standard practice they use is disposing of fracking fluid by deep underground injection, but this is becoming increasing criticized due to the danger of earthquakes. In Youngstone, Ohio, there were a series of earthquakes proven to be the direct result of injecting wastewater from fracking into the ground (Won-Young Kim, 2013). This wastewater came from fracking activity in Pennsylvania. In response to this, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources mandated more stringent permits in areas with previous seismic activity that “require companies to install sensitive seismic monitors” (ODNR, 2014). However, many communities go ignored due to a law put in place that prevents local regulation on hydraulic fracturing. The Supreme Court ruled that only the state could ban fracturing in areas and it was not within the rights of local governments (Ohio Supreme Court, 2015).
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the regulatory body for fracking operations in Pennsylvania. Oil and gas companies must comply with state standards for their disposal of both liquid and solid waste (Oil and Gas Surface Regulations n.d.). Specifically, the waste must be stored in lined pits or storage tanks prior to disposal, and when there are disposed of they can pose no threat to polluting Pennsylvania waters (Finewood 2012). However, the law is written so that it can be interpreted many ways and many hydraulic fracturing companies have been accused of contaminating water supplies. The Pennsylvania Legislature also passed a law that prohibits local communities from banning hydraulic fracturing operation (Torrez et al. 2013).
In comparison to the other states in the Marcellus Shale region, Virginia and West Virginia have very little regulation of hydraulic fracturing. In both states hydraulic fracturing is expanding with growing demand for natural gas (DMME, 2012). In Virginia, it is mandatory to test potentially impacted groundwater before drilling but only in very rare cases are additional groundwater or surface water permits required of fracturing companies. However, the test required is just a basic water quaility test that is not designed to detect and of the chemicals known to be in fracking fluids, and it is not mandatory to test water during or after operations, presenting difficulties in monitoring and regulating fracking’s impact on the water (DMME, 2012). In West Virginia there is even less policy. Hydraulic fracturing companies are presented with options for disposal that include recycling, treatment at a treatment plant or underground injection but no specific testing of any kind is required (Fracking Regulations by State-ALS).
Finewood, M. H., and Stroup, L. J. (2012). Fracking and the Neoliberalization of the Hydro-Social Cycle in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale. Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education, 147, 72-79.
Kim, W. (2013). Induced Seismicity Associated with Fluid Injection into a Deep Well in Youngstown, Ohio. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth 118, 1-13.
Torrez, M., Brady, W. J., Crannell, J. P., Smith, J., Belzil, D., & Knodel, M. S. (2013). Hydraulic Fracturing Regulation in the United States: The Laissez-Faire Approach of the Federal Government and Varying State Regulations. Vermont Journal of Environmental Law.