Moratorium of Hydraulic Fracturing by Steven Gaston

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is a heavily contested and complicated issue. For the most part laypeople have to rely on expert opinion, which is often split or overwhelmed by potential bad faith actors whose paychecks are directly tied to the fossil fuel industry like API.[1] Perhaps the most important question is this: should fracking be one of the tools used to help stop the global climate crisis? The potential downsides of continuing to expand fracking are disastrous, exacerbating climate change and running afoul of the principle of environmental justice. However, in our current situation it still might be a better option than coal, so I recommend a federal moratorium on developing new lands for fracking, and a phase out of the practice after coal-power has been eliminated.

Climate analysis

A major claim of fracking proponents is that carbon dioxide emissions are significantly reduced when switching from coal to natural gas, and that this is a faster, cheaper, and more reliable route than investing in green energy. This appears to be borne out by U.S. data (there was a 37% decline in carbon emissions in North Carolina from 2005 to 2017 while renewable energy production only rose modestly.)[2] However, a 2015 study posited this decline was primarily due to decreasing consumption stemming from the Great Recession.[3] Even if it is true that the majority of decline was due to fracking, this still ignores the main climate-related criticism lobbed at the hydraulic fracturing process, which rests not on carbon, but on methane leaks that can occur during extraction and processing. Methane sticks around in the atmosphere for an average of 12 years, compared to about 20-200 years for most carbon dioxide.[4] However, it is 84 times more potent of a greenhouse gas, warming the atmosphere much more rapidly.[5] This makes it particularly alarming that there has been a spike in methane emissions since 2008, which were originally attributed to “cows and wetlands” but further study has pointed to shale fracking as the main source.[6] Some studies have found that the release of methane from natural gas and oil is much higher than government estimates, and overall would cause faster warming than using coal.[7] The American Petroleum Institute (API) disputes this, claiming that from 2005 to 2015 natural gas production increased by about 50% while methane emissions only increased 1.7% due to new technologies.[8]

Economic analysis

In 2019, the White House Council of Economic Advisors had a truly astounding finding. They estimated increases in natural gas and oil production (as a direct result of advances in technology for the fracking of shale) saved American families an average of $2,500 a year (63% decrease in natural gas prices, 45% decrease in energy prices, 10% in oil).[9] A report from IHS Economics estimated that fracking created 1.9 million jobs in 2015 alone.[10] This comes with the caveat that the case could be being overstated by the Trump Administration and the study cited by API, both of whom are interested in promoting fracking. They could fudge them by including temporary jobs and overestimating the degree to which savings were due to fracking,[11] but it is indisputable that it has had a positive effect on the economy, even if it may have soaked up resources that could have gone to renewable alternatives.

Environmental justice analysis

Some other troubling elements of fracking include, but is not limited to pollution of ground water with potentially toxic chemicals (injections are exempt from SDWA, CWA, and CERCLA and not regulated by EPA),[12],[13] increases in earthquakes (900-fold increase in Oklahoma since 2008, which coincided with large-scale increases in massive hydraulic fracking),[14] strain on local water resources, release of harmful chemicals into the air and surrounding communities (which are overwhelmingly poor), and being of little economic benefit for those communities.[15],[16],[17]


Considering all of the downsides, it’s unwise to expand fracking beyond its current state. However, to immediately and drastically scale it back could prove disastrous economically and environmentally, especially if it isn’t coupled with massive green energy programs. My recommendation is federal legislation to put a moratorium on all future fracking projects, allowing completion of wells that are already in progress, and only start actively closing plants when all coal-fired power stations are shut down. Moratoria and bans have been widely applied locally (there were 92 bans and 96 moratoria in New York counties and municipalities before it was banned statewide),[18] and to a lesser extent statewide (NY, VT, MD, and WA have all banned it), and nationally (France, Ireland, Germany, and Bulgaria banned it outright, UK Conservative government adopted a moratorium in 2019).[19] This shows it is not only good policy, it is also good politics, being broadly popular across localities and ideologies.


[1] “American Petroleum Institute.” Desmog. February 2020.

[2] Hood, John. “Fracking has reduced carbon emissions.” Watauga Democrat. February 2020.

[3] Feng, Kuishuang, et al. “Drivers of the US CO 2 emissions 1997–2013.” Nature communications 6.1 (2015): 1-8.

[4] Clark, Duncan. “How long do greenhouse gases stay in the air?” The Guardian and Carbon Brief. January 2012.

[5] Roberts, David. “Fracking may be a bigger climate problem than we thought.” Vox. August 2019

[6] Ibid.

[7] Howarth, Robert W., Anthony Ingraffea, and Terry Engelder. “Should Fracking Stop?” Nature 477 (2011): n. pag. Print.

[8] “Hydraulic Fracking Unlocking America’s Natural Gas Resources.American Petroleum Institute, August 2017.

[9] “The Value of U.S. Energy Innovation and Policies Supporting the Shale Revolution.” The US Council of Economic Advisors. October 2019.

[10]Hydraulic Fracking…” API.

[11] Foran, Clare. “How Many Jobs Does Fracking Really Create?” The Atlantic. April 14, 2014.

[12] The Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), the Clean Water Act (1972), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (1980) which regulates toxic substances.

[13] Howarth, Robert W., Anthony Ingraffea, and Terry Engelder. “Should Fracking Stop?” Nature 477 (2011): n. pag. Print.

[14] Kuchment, Anna. Even if Injection of Fracking Wastewater Stops, Quakes Won’t. Scientific American. September 2019.

[15] Irfan, Umair. “The best case for and against a fracking ban.” Vox. February 2020.

[16] Bienkowski, Brian. “Poor in Pennsylvania? You’re Fracked.” Environmental Health News. N.p., 16 May 2015. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.

[17] Fry, Matthew, Adam Briggle, and Jordan Kincaid. “Fracking and environmental injustice in a Texas city.” Ecological Economics 117 (2015): 97-107. Print.

[18] Cecot, Caroline. “No Fracking Way: An Empirical Investigation of Local Shale Development Bans in New York.” Envtl. L. 48 (2018): 761.

[19] “Ireland becomes the fourth EU country to ban fracking.” DownToEarth. July 2018.


2 thoughts on “Moratorium of Hydraulic Fracturing by Steven Gaston

  1. I really appreciate this analysis of fracking, especially because it’s not a topic that I know a lot about. I find it particularly insightful because, were I to just read the statistics on the harmful effects of fracking, I would want to discontinue it immediately; this made me reconsider my initial reactions. I also think that a moratorium is a very creative solution that is agreeable for many parties (both political and not) involved. Its past success is promising from a feasibility standpoint, and the end of fracking is promising from an environmental justice standpoint. The solution remains complicated by the coal-fired power plants, however, since a moratorium depends on action by coal power first. I wonder how the coal industry will change with the coming election, as well, since the Trump administration is currently very supportive of coal power. Regardless of the administration, however, I think that this provides a realistic and promising recommendation for the end of fracking in the US.

  2. This article offers a very insightful analysis into the pros and cons of the fracking process as it currently stands. One of the most interesting aspects of fracking seems to be that the data on fracking seems to be very divided, which perhaps merits a more objective and in-depth study in the future. In regards to your suggestion of a moratorium on fracking, I think it is important to take into consideration under what scenarios the eventual closure of coal powered plants would come about. In any scenario, there would likely have to be an extremely elaborate and trusted energy system to switch into to assure Americans that we would still have a reliable energy infrastructure. In the case of renewable energy, many critics argue that our current renewable energy systems are not reliable enough to fully support the energy needs of America. Given this, fracking could potentially play an important role in an energy transition. A moratorium would prevent new fracking opportunities that could provide data on the viability. However, I agree that the drawbacks of fracking should not be overlooked.

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