Environmental Consequences of Natural Gas Shale Oil Drilling

According to American Petroleum Institute (API) natural gas or shale oil could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas is 60 percent lower in carbon emissions than coal and 30 percent lower in carbon emissions than oil. API also suggests that “natural gas could be used in coal-fired power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”

However there is a problem with the production of natural shale oil gas. Natural shale oil gas is extracted from shale rock by a process called hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Hydraulic fracturing uses huge amounts of water in this process and also carcinogenic compounds and hazardous materials.

Hydraulic fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing injects water and chemicals into the shale rock at high pressures to split the rock and remove the gas. However residents of areas where fracking occurs complain of contaminated water and dried up river beds.

In some places where oil companies begin fracking, there are no laws against water use, and they dry out water sources without any permissions to do so making residents nervous about their continued water supply.

Changes in water “quantity and quality” are happening in Alabama, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming; and the suspected culprit is hydraulic fracturing used in the extraction of natural gas from shale, according to the Catskill Mountainkeeper, a publication monitoring the rivers and streams in New York and keeping a close watch on shale oil drilling.

Oil and gas companies are exempt

According to Catskill Mountainkeeper, oil and gas companies are exempted from some of the protections afforded by The Clean Water Act, The Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) or the Superfund law, The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Gas and oil companies are also not covered by the “public right to know.” Accordingly these companies may not be disclosing the chemicals they use in the fracking process.

Clearly the public, both morally and ethically has a right to know what is in the fracking process in order to know that their aquifers and groundwaters are safe from contamination both now and in the future.

Resolutions filed

Residents in the Marcellus Shale areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York are also complaining about their water quality. According to Marketwire.com resolutions have been filed with nine oil and gas companies regarding their hydraulic fracturing.

New York’s moratorium

New York has put a moratorium on any future drilling until all environmental consequences are resolved. Oil companies cannot drill in most areas of NY legally. However, this is not the case in Pennsylvania, where so far no laws have been enacted, with only residents complaining.

A map

All shale areas or shale plays as they are called in the petroleum industry can be seen on this map from the API.

A novel

The controversy over shale drilling has become so intense between residents of their communities and the oil companies that one man even wrote a romance novel using the shale drilling scenario as his backdrop. He calls the fictional city, Tranquility, a place somewhere in New York. The title of the book is Hotbed in Tranquility. The author, A. W. White, is an opponent and activist against natural gas oil drilling.


Clearly oil companies and residents should come to some consensus regarding water use and contaminants used in the drilling process. Oil companies must operate ethically and morally when going into communities to drill for gas.

The fine line between economics and the environment must be confronted; people living in shale oil drilling communities must decide whether they want to allow drilling in their communities or whether they can put up with dried-up river beds and contaminated groundwater and aquifers. 

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