Fracking site in West Virginia

Understanding the Life Cycle and Regional Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale Basin

Grant Type: 

  • Network Innovation


Award Date: 

August 2012




Washington, DC

Switzer Fellows will collaborate with Earthworks to research the life cycle and regional impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in the Marcellus Shale of the northeastern U.S.  While fracking has occurred for decades in less populated areas of the western U.S., including Wyoming and Texas, recent rapid development in the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York has exposed growing environmental concerns about water usage for drilling and the fate of wastewater.  Fracking involves drilling deep wells and then injecting water, sand and chemicals to release natural gas from shale formations. Wastewater laden with chemicals is typically  re-injected into the ground where it can contaminate domestic groundwater supplies. The funded project entails original research and analysis that will benefit local and state level efforts to regulate hydrofracturing by developing a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for water use in fracking. The preliminary LCA of water quantity and quality impacts will help create a water “footprint” of the fracking process addressing amount of water used, polluted water generated and risk to groundwater supplies.  Available site data from different states and watersheds within the Marcellus Shale region will be used to develop the LCA. Understanding the degree to which cross-border wastewater transport also occurs will be a part of the research. In addition, the team will review the extent to which land use changes assocated with fracking site preparation and drilling activities are beingtracked and assess the extent of GHG emissions resulting from from these changes.  Lastly, the project will include a review of the best existing  ordinancesand regulations that can support local and state-level efforts to appropriately site fracking activities.  This project is part of Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project and will be undertaken by Switzer Fellows Evan Hansen, President of Downstream Strategies in West Virginia; and Dr. Dustin Mulvaney, Assistant Professor at San Jose State University in California in collaboration with Earthworks staff.  Reports and products of the research will be disseminated widely to researchers, policymakers and activists.  

Original Grant Proposal: 

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