Appendix C: Overview of the U.S. Legal and Regulatory Framework for Shale Development

Legal and regulatory issues are in flux for this rapidly expanding and evolving industry, with many unsettled questions pertaining to environmental protection, technical applications, nuisance laws, the role of local governments, zoning, split estates, forced pooling, and landowner rights. In September 2014, the Congressional Research Service examined some of the legal issues related to hydraulic fracturing and found both gaps and uncertainties in policy that are, in some instances, being addressed through litigation. 1 Below is an overview of current policy related to some of the key issues, as of mid-2015.

U.S. Federal Legislation & Regulation

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has responsibility for most of the key federal laws relevant to shale development, including the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Several other federal laws also apply to shale development, including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund), which authorizes the EPA to respond to releases or potential releases of hazardous substances that threaten human health and the environment; the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which regulates the generation, transport, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous wastes; and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to integrate environmental impact statements (EIS) and recommendations for mitigation into their project planning. Oil and gas development on federally owned lands is managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For information on pipeline regulation, see Appendix E.


  1. Adam Vann, Brandon J. Murrill, and Mary Tiemann, Hydraulic Fracturing:  Selected Legal Issues, Congressional Research Service Report (September 26, 2014),