The potentially devastating impacts from unconventional gas development on water and air quality as well as the global climate deserve much more scrutiny.

The potentially devastating impacts from unconventional gas development on water supplies, air quality and the global climate deserve much greater study and scrutiny. The emerging red flags of concern raised by scientists conducting research into unconventional gas threats clearly indicate that a precautionary approach is necessary. Despite the uncertainties, one fact is clear: the U.S. unconventional gas industry is currently exempt from many of the needed transparency, oversight, monitoring, and enforcement statutes designed to protect public health and safety. That must change.

A more accurate accounting of the true costs associated with unconventional gas extraction is critically needed before a national commitment is made to another dirty fossil fuel as an interim “bridge fuel” or longer-term energy option.

As this report outlines, industry lobbying and misinformation campaigns have confused the public and lawmakers and effectively limited much-needed federal oversight of unconventional gas operations. This industry pressure has contaminated the political process and stifled meaningful public participation in the debate about our energy future.

Meanwhile, troubling new findings from independent scientists, academics and concerned citizens shed light on many negative impacts of unconventional gas drilling that were previously unaccounted for. Lawmakers and oversight agencies should take into consideration the warnings from experts highlighted throughout this report—from Dr. Daniel Botkin, Dr. Theo Colborn, Dr. Ronald Bishop, the Cornell team of Dr. Robert Howarth and Dr. Anthony Ingraffea—and others. What these experts caution against is the threat of irreparable harm that the unconventional gas boom poses to water and air quality, human health and a rapidly destabilizing global climate.

If the United States truly endeavors to transition to a clean energy future, its dependence on all fossil fuels must be phased out as rapidly as possible. Opportunities to restructure our energy systems and to create a sustainable energy future present themselves every day. We ignore these opportunities at our own peril, as they are likely to be fewer and further between as scarce fossil fuel supplies grow increasingly difficult and expensive to bring to market.

Right now the dirty oil and gas industry is asking the public to commit to decades more reliance on a dwindling fossil fuel enterprise that, in turn, is virtually guaranteed to pollute our water, air and land, and further provoke a mounting global climate crisis.


  • A national moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for unconventional gas until independent scientific studies are conducted to verify that fracking is not responsible for adverse outcomes on drinking water, public health and the global climate.
  • The federal government, not the states, should strictly oversee setting and enforcing standards for unconventional gas drilling. Federal oversight of the unconventional gas industry is critical, since the states have not demonstrated the capacity to hold drillers accountable for contamination of water supplies, growing air pollution problems and the potentially devastating climate change implications of fugitive methane and other emissions. Federal agencies should employ existing federal statutes that don’t currently apply to gas drilling, and review the need for any new standards necessary to protect public health and the environment.
  • Greater scrutiny is needed on common drilling practices such as cementing procedures, wastewater handling and storage of harmful drilling chemicals.
  • Congress and federal agency officials must immediately require mandatory industry reporting of lifecycle emissions of gas drilling operations to ensure relevant and reliable information is accessible to the public, especially independent experts.
  • They must also require mandatory disclosure of fracking fluid chemicals, including the exact chemical recipes used in each operation.

A nationwide moratorium on gas fracking is warranted due to:

  • Drinking water contamination threats – particularly of private wells near fracking operations, as well as municipal sources drawn from waterways impacted by unconventional gas drilling directly and via inadequate fracking wastewater treatment prior to discharge into these waterways.
  • Uncertainties about the extent of methane emissions and leakage from drilling operations, storage tanks and pipelines carrying gas.
  • Threats to pristine Western lands such as Colorado's Roan Plateau from unconventional gas drilling.
  • Questions about the migration of fracking wastewater injected underground in several areas of the country.

If independent scientists ultimately deem resumption of fracking sufficiently safe, DeSmogBlog recommends that federal oversight agencies and state officials require:

  • Mandatory baseline surface and ground water testing be conducted in surrounding areas prior to exploration and development of fracked gas wells.
  • Fracking operations should remain suspended until all precautionary safety and capture equipment is deployed at every gas well,
  • Disaster and emergency response plans submitted and approved by relevant agencies to deal specifically with fracking-related blowouts and other mishaps.
  • Mandatory reporting of methane leakage and other emissions from gas operations.
  • Mandatory disclosure of all fracking chemicals used in each operation so that regulators and emergency responders know what is in use at each site at all times.

Beyond these necessary steps to rein in the unconventional gas boom, lawmakers must immediately reconsider their emphasis on promoting unconventional gas for America’s future energy needs – which is, essentially, a commitment to further fossil fuel dependence.

Federal investments of taxpayer dollars must look beyond the 'bridge' temptation and instead focus on the rapid scale-up of truly clean, renewable energy sources. Any federal investment in new unconventional gas infrastructure inherently means diverting dollars that could be better spent transitioning America off fossil fuels permanently.




Lead author: Carol Linnitt

Editor: Brendan DeMelle

Research, writing and editing assistant: Emma Pullman

Report Design: Tunaheart Creative


DeSmogBlog is thankful for the generous time, input and feedback provided by Dr. Daniel Botkin, Dr. Ronald Bishop, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Dr. Robert Howarth, Renee Santoro and Dr. Maurice Dusseault.

We also owe tremendous gratitude to Jessica Ernst, a source of unlimited knowledge, energy, and inspiration.

And to Kevin Grandia, former Managing Editor of DeSmogBlog, for initiating this research project and inspiring this report.




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