Full Title: Hydraulic Fracturing and Safe Drinking Water Act Regulatory Issues
Author(s): Mary Tiemann, Adam Vann
Publisher(s): Congressional Research Service
Publication Date:1/2013


Hydraulic fracturing is a technique developed initially to stimulate oil production from wells in declining oil reservoirs. With technological advances, hydraulic fracturing is now widely used to initiate oil and gas production in unconventional (low-permeability) oil and gas formations that were previously inaccessible. This process now is used in more than 90% of new oil and gas wells. Hydraulic fracturing is done after a well is drilled and involves injecting large volumes of water, sand (or other propping agent), and specialized chemicals under enough pressure to fracture the formations holding the oil or gas. The sand or other proppant holds the fractures open to allow the oil or gas to flow freely out of the formation and into a production well. Its application, along with horizontal drilling, for production of natural gas (methane) from tight gas sands, unconventional shale formations, and coal beds, has resulted in the marked expansion of estimated U.S. natural gas reserves in recent years. Similarly, hydraulic fracturing is enabling the development of tight oil resources, such as the Bakken and Eagle Ford formations. The rapid growth in the use of fracturing has raised concerns over its potential impacts on groundwater and drinking water sources, and has led to calls for more state and/or federal oversight of this activity.

This report reviews past and proposed treatment of hydraulic fracturing under the SDWA, the principal federal statute for regulating the underground injection of fluids to protect groundwater sources of drinking water. It reviews current SDWA provisions for regulating underground injection activities, and discusses some possible implications of the enactment of legislation authorizing EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing (beyond diesel) under this statute.