Box 4. Case Study from the Mining Industry: The Good Neighbor Agreement

Box 4. Case Study from the Mining Industry: The Good Neighbor Agreement

Box 4. Case Study from the Mining Industry: The Good Neighbor Agreement

In 2000, when Stillwater Mining Company began making plans to expand their mining operations in two Montana counties, several environmental NGOs saw an opportunity to engage with the company about protecting the area’s natural resources. During the hearing on the initial draft of the expansion permit, NGO representatives raised questions about its environmental implications. The groups subsequently entered into negotiations with the mining company on how to resolve these issues before the permit was finalized. The result of their negotiations was the creation of the 2000 Good Neighbor Agreement, 1 a legally binding document. The purpose of the agreement is to protect the area’s quality of life while providing for responsible economic development.

Designed to avoid triggering state government regulatory action on water quality, the Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) establishes water quality requirements that exceed those required by the state. Three citizens’ committees and a set of projects were established to implement the objectives outlined in the agreement. As part of the agreement, an independent third-party consultant provides the citizen councils with technical assistance. The consultant costs, as well as other expenses of implementing the agreement, are covered by Stillwater.

One citizen committee focuses on engaging local residents in water quality monitoring for the agreement in the Stillwater, Boulder, and East Boulder Rivers. 2 Other initiatives of the GNA have increased public safety and decreased air pollution by establishing traffic restrictions and providing for carpooling, as well as a busing program for miners. On an annual basis, the technology committee considers any emerging best practices in the mining industry that could be applied to either of the mines.

The company’s transparency about its operations, along with citizen participation in monitoring activities, has fostered an environment of trust. 3 Maintaining an ongoing relationship has been important for stakeholders in the GNA because it has allowed for open dialogue and development of amendments to the agreement as needed. For example, the busing agreement originally stated that Stillwater was permitted only 35 private vehicles on the road per day. Nine years later, stakeholders renegotiated the traffic provisions to accommodate the changing operational needs of the mine while keeping traffic to a minimum.

In its newsletter commemorating the tenth anniversary of the GNA, the Northern Plains Resource Council, one of the original NGO parties to the agreement, stated that the GNA “has become a template for resolving disputes and promoting positive interaction in the permitting and development of natural resources.” 4

For more information, contact the Northern Plains Resource Council, (406) 248 1154,


  1. Good Neighbor Agreement Between Stillwater Mining Company and Northern Plains Resource Council, Cottonwood Resource Council, and Stillwater Protective Association (originally signed May 8, 2000; amended November 11, 2009).
  2. Northern Plains Resource Council, “Good Neighbor Agreement: A Unique Solution for Local Protection,” accessed December 9, 2014.
  3. Northern Plains Resource Council, “10th Anniversary Good Neighbor Agreement Newsletter,” 1, accessed December 9, 2014.
  4. Northern Plains Resource Council, “10th Anniversary,” 1.

Box 3. Case Study: Health Impact Assessment

Box 3. Case Study: Health Impact Assessment

Box 3. Case Study:  Health Impact Assessment

Oil drilling has taken place in Alaska since 1967. With the expansion of the industry in recent decades, some development activities began to occur near rural Alaskan native communities in the North Slope region, where some residents began expressing health concerns. In 2006, local tribal leaders and the borough government responded with a decision to jointly conduct the region’s first HIA. The project’s goals were to address community concerns and bring a more systematic, evidence-based approach to integrating public health data into the oil and gas planning and regulatory process. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agreed to integrate the HIA into an existing environmental impact statement (EIS) process for proposed oil and gas leasing near several local villages.

The study produced some significant findings. The HIA highlighted potential impacts on regional fish and wildlife populations, which would have consequences for local diet and nutrition. It also recognized potential social changes that the anticipated large increase in population would bring to the region. Finally, the HIA acknowledged the potential benefits for local communities, such as increased revenues to support police and emergency services, education, and public health programming.

As a result of the HIA’s identification of specific risks to the community, preventative measures were taken to prepare the community for the expected changes, including:

  • new BLM requirements for monitoring contaminants in locally-harvested fish and game
  • air quality modelling for large industry facilities located near villages
  • water quality monitoring
  • worker education programs on drug and alcohol use and sexually transmitted diseases

The HIA process also led to a new level of collaboration between state and tribal public health authorities; state and federal regulators; and industry. The state subsequently established an HIA program and now conducts HIAs for large projects throughout Alaska.

Sources:  Aaron Wernham, “Inupiat Health and Proposed Alaskan Oil Development:  Results of the First Integrated Health Impact Assessment/ Environmental Impact Statement for Proposed Oil Development on Alaska’s North Slope,” EcoHealth 4 (2007), 500513; The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Case Study: Oil Development, North Slope of Alaska” (December 30, 2006)

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

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

U.S. Federal Legislation & Regulation


At the request of Congress, the EPA has been studying the potential impact of shale development operations on drinking water resources. The agency released a draft assessment summarizing existing science and new EPA research in June 2015. 1 The draft is currently undergoing review by EPA’s Science Advisory Board. Once finalized, it is anticipated to serve as a resource for the protection of drinking water resources. 2

Safe Drinking Water Act

The EPA protects underground sources of drinking water (USDW) through its regulatory authority under the SDWA. The Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program is the principal means of protecting USDWs, which requires permits for the use of underground injection as a means of waste disposal. States that have demonstrated an ability to meet EPA’s requirements for enforcement of the UIC program have been granted primary enforcement authority, called primacy. These states have established regulations for the protection of USDWs for Class II injection wells, including on injection pressure and monitoring, well testing, and reporting. In states that have not received primacy, the EPA directly implements the regulations.

There are six categories (or classes) of UIC injection wells, depending on the kind of fluid and depth at which the fluid is injected. The oil and gas industry uses Class II injection wells to 1) permanently dispose of wastewater; 2) reinject it at the site of a production well in order to improve the recovery of the resource; and 3) to store hydrocarbons beneath the surface to be pumped out later for processing and use. As of September 2013, the Ground Water Protection Council estimated that 31 states host approximately 168,000 Class II injection wells. 3

Prior to well construction, the site is evaluated to ensure that the injected fluids will be appropriately isolated from drinking water sources and that construction and operation procedures will be protective of USDWs. Well construction techniques use layers of steel casing and cement to prevent any subsurface fluid migration. Once constructed, the wells are tested prior to injection. After the wells enter into operation, they are monitored for injection pressures and volumes to ensure proper operation and to allow for the identification of any problems. Wells must also be tested at least once every five years to check the performance of the well and the subsurface conditions. When operations cease, wells must be closed in a manner that protects USDWs and are typically sealed with a series of cement plugs.

Is hydraulic fracturing considered underground injection?

Some stakeholders have raised the question of whether hydraulic fracturing constitutes underground injection and should be regulated under the UIC program. 4 In response to such questions, Congress declared in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids for oil and gas development activities (except those containing diesel fuel) is not considered underground injection and is therefore excluded from regulation under the SDWA. 5 Following on this decision, in May 2012 the EPA issued draft guidance indicating that when operators use hydraulic fracturing fluids containing diesel fuel, they are required to obtain a permit under the UIC program. 6 

Clean Water Act

The discharge of oil and gas wastewaters into the surface waters of the United States is regulated by the EPA under the CWA. The CWA controls industrial discharges directly to surface waters (e.g., through stormwater systems) and industry’s indirect discharges to publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). Any discharges to surface waters must be below the limits set under the CWA National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). NPDES may authorize a permit that allows discharging of chemicals into U.S. waters, provided that they are below EPA standard limits. 7 Permitting generally occurs at the federal level; however, NPDES has authorized some states to issue permits directly.  

Waste Disposal

As with other oil and gas wastes, shale development wastes are classified as “special waste” and are therefore exempt from hazardous waste regulations under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). 8While exempt from RCRA Subtitle C pertaining to hazardous wastes, wastes from shale development are still subject to other federal regulations (e.g., CWA, SDWA), RCRA Subtitle D solid waste regulations, and state regulations. 9 If hazardous substances from shale development contaminate a site and pose a threat to public health or the environment, operators can potentially be liable under CERCLA for natural resource damages, cleanup costs, and the cost of public health studies. 10

Shale Development on Federal and Tribal Lands

In March 2015, the BLM issued new standards for shale development on federal and tribal lands. The BLM controls 700 million acres of federal subsurface minerals and is the regulatory agency for an additional 56 million acres of tribal subsurface minerals. 11 To date, there are over 100,000 oil and gas wells on federal lands, with 90% of the wells currently being drilled using hydraulic fracturing techniques. 12 The new rule includes new requirements for ensuring well integrity, the disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, higher standards for wastewater storage, and a requirement that operators provide additional information on preexisting wells, with the goal of reducing the potential for cross-well contamination. In September 2015, however, a federal judge issued an injunction blocking the implementation of the new regulations until an industry challenge to the regulations can be heard in court later in the year. 13


  1. U.S. EPA Office of Research and Development, Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources:  Executive Summary (External Review Draft) (Washington, DC:  June 2015).
  2. U.S. EPA, “Questions and Answers about EPA’s Hydraulic Fracturing Study” last updated October 8, 2015.
  3. Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), “Injection Wells:  An Introduction to Their Use, Operation, & Regulation” (September 1. 2013), 13.
  4. GWPC, “Injection Wells,” 28.
  5. U.S. EPA, “Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act,” last updated February 11, 2014.
  6. U.S. EPA, “Fact Sheet: Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program Permitting Guidance for Oil and Gas Hydraulic Fracturing Activities Using Diesel Fuels, UIC Program Guidance #84 – Draft” (May 2012).
  7. U.S. EPA, “Natural Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale:  NPDES Program Frequently Asked Questions,” attachment to memorandum from James Hanlon, Director of EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management to the EPA Regions titled, “Natural Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale under the NPDES Program” (March 16, 2011): 6.
  8. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Crude Oil and Natural Gas Waste,” last updated 4/7/14.
  9. U.S. EPA, “Exemption of Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Wastes from Federal Hazardous Waste Regulations,” 5, 20.
  10. Adam Vann, Brandon J. Murrill, and Mary Tiemann, Hydraulic Fracturing. 
  11. U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM), “Interior Department Releases Final Rule to Support Safe, Responsible Hydraulic Fracturing Activities on Public and Tribal Lands” (March 20, 2015). 
  12. BLM, “Interior Department Releases Final Rule.”
  13. Coral Davenport, “Judge Blocks Obama Administration Rules on Fracking,” The New York Times (September 30, 2015).

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?


In addition to making an effort to restore the land as close as possible to its original state per the API guidelines, the company can maintain a dialogue with local officials and community members to get their input during the decommissioning process. It can anticipate safety and environmental risks that could arise from the site and strive to reduce or eliminate those risks. The API guidelines recommend adopting a “consistent and forward-looking focus on safety and the environment.” 1


State officials have a role in ensuring that wells are properly plugged and abandoned. At this stage, any surface use agreements that were signed prior to site development can help to guide the site restoration.


Property owners can work with the operator to make sure that the site is properly restored to the specifications in the surface use agreement.


  1. API, “Community Engagement Guidelines,” 9.

What health considerations are there?

What health considerations are there?

Air & Water Quality and Safety

If wells are not properly sealed when they are abandoned, they can pose a safety risk to residents and livestock, as well as air and water quality risks, given that contaminants could be released into the air or migrate to ground and surface waters. When this has been suspected of occurring, it has been linked to old, historically abandoned sites (orphaned wells). A 2013 study conducted in New York found that three-fourths of the abandoned oil and gas wells had never been plugged. 1 The National Petroleum Council also acknowledged the problem nationwide in a 2011 working paper. 2 Furthermore, a 2014 study of 19 abandoned wells in Pennsylvania – some dating back to the 19th century – found that not only were most of them unplugged, but both plugged and unplugged wells were also leaking methane. Extrapolating the amount released from the wells under study, the researchers estimated that such abandoned wells could be responsible for 4%-7% of the state’s methane emissions in 2010. 3   

The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, has been studying the problem of orphaned wells and making recommendations to the states, which are ultimately responsible for locating and plugging the wells. As of 2007, the states had identified about 60,000 such wells, with potentially 90,000 more yet to be located. 4 The IOGCC concluded that while the states have improved their response to the problem, funding remains an issue. 5 The IOGCC therefore recommended that wells presenting the greatest safety risks be prioritized and urged states and industry to collaborate in finding creative solutions. 6  


  1. R. E. Bishop, “Historical Analysis of Oil and Gas Well Plugging in New York: Is the Regulatory System Working?New Solutions 23, no. 1 (2013), 113- 114.
  2. National Petroleum Council, Plugging and Abandoning Oil and Gas Wells (2011).
  3. Mary Kang, Cynthia M. Kanno, Matthew C. Reid, Xin Zhang, Denise L. Mauzerall, Michael A. Celia, Yuheng Chen, and Tullis C. Onstott, “Direct Measurements of Methane Emissions from Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells in Pennsylvania,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111,  no. 51 (December 23, 2014), 18173-18174.
  4. Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), Protecting Our Country’s Resources: The StatesCase (2007), 3.
  5. IOGCC, Protecting Our Country’s Resources, 16-17.
  6. IOGCC, Protecting Our Country’s Resources, 17.

What resources can provide further information?

What resources can provide further information?

Water Quality

  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “Toxic Substances Portal,” last updated July 23, 2014, This agency housed with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a set of fact sheets on hazardous chemicals containing information on their health effects, exposure pathways, government recommendations, and ways to reduce risks.
  • Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, “Assessment Tools & More,” The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) is an international network of nurses that deals with environmental health issues through education, research, advocacy, and practice. The ANHE website contains assessment tools for healthcare practitioners in areas experiencing shale development.
  • The FracFocus website ( is a repository where operators can voluntarily disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations. It is searchable by well site.
  • International Council on Mining & Metals, “Water Management in Mining:  A Selection of Case Studies” (May 2012),  This selection of case studies gives some examples from the mining sector of strategies to reduce water use and protect water quality in collaboration with stakeholders.
  • Matthew McFeeley, “State Hydraulic Fracturing Disclosure Rules and Enforcement: A Comparison” (Natural Resources Defense Council, July 2012), This report discusses the importance of disclosure of the chemicals used in the shale development process to allow for water quality testing prior to exploration, and summarizes regulations by state. 
  • Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP), “Water,” SWPA-EHP, a nonprofit environmental health organization that provides assistance to local residents concerned about the health impacts of shale gas development, offers guidance and resources on home water testing.
  • Susquehanna River Basin Commission, “Overview of Remote Water Quality Monitoring Network,” last updated June 2014, The Susquehanna River Basin Commission created the Remote Water Quality Monitoring Network to collect and analyze water quality data from the Susquehanna River. The data is used to monitor the effects of drilling operations in the area on the health of the river. 
  • Town of Palisade and City of Grand Junction, Colorado et al., Watershed Plan for the Town of Palisade and the City of Grand Junction, Colorado (August 2007), This collaboratively developed watershed plan between community, government, and company stakeholders offers a framework for identifying and addressing risks, conducting third-party water monitoring, and implementing best management practices with regard to energy development in the watershed.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development, “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources” External Review Draft (Washington, DC:  June 2015). This draft assessment provides a review and synthesis of available information concerning the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on drinking water resources in the United States. At the time of the release of this guidebook, the draft assessment is under review by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board.  

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

Industry Representatives

Water Quality

Approaches the operator may undertake to address water quality concerns include:

  • using tanks to store wastewater instead of open pits, following best practices for their design, construction, and operation to prevent leaks and spills 1
  • following best practices for well-casing construction, following best practices and industry guidelines 2
  • adopting the use of green fracturing fluids (strategies include drawing on the chemicals listed in EPA’s Design for the Environment program and establishing a staff position responsible for reducing the volume and toxicity of chemicals used)
  • implementing storm water plans to control runoff and flooding
  • publicly disclosing the contents of hydraulic fracturing fluids, possibly using a “systems approach” to reporting that separates trade names from chemical ingredients and concentrations, allowing operators to preserve confidential information while sharing the chemicals used 3
  • as mentioned in the safety section, providing driver training programs and establishing safety controls such as speed monitors and road risk maps to avoid accidents and spills (see Box 9. Case Study: Driver Safety)
  • establishing a community-based participatory monitoring program, in which trained and experienced volunteers conduct water sampling in the surrounding area to monitor for chemical constituents that could pose a health risk (see Box 4. Case Study from the Mining Industry:  The Good Neighbor Agreement)


  1.  GWPC, “State Oil and Gas Regulations,” 11
  2.  API, “Hydraulic Fracturing Operations – Well Construction and Integrity Guidelines,” API Guidance Document HF1, First Edition (October 2009)
  3. U.S. Department of Energy, “Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Task Force Report on FracFocus 2.0” (Washington, DC:  March 28, 2014), 2.

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

Local Officials and Community Leaders

Water Quality

Given that many of the potential contaminants associated with shale development, such as methane, are naturally occurring, it can be difficult to substantiate the source of any groundwater contamination. It is therefore important to establish a baseline for water quality prior to development and create an ongoing water monitoring program. Community members could have a role in assisting with water monitoring efforts. For examples of community involvement in water monitoring, see Box 4. Case Study from the Mining Industry:  Good Neighbor Agreement and the report from the International Council on Mining and Metals, Water Management in Mining.” 

What health considerations are there?

What health considerations are there?

Box 8. Focus on Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM)

What is NORM?

Radiation is a particular kind of energy given off by unstable atoms. Our natural surroundings — including air, water, and mineral resources — contain various amounts of radioactive material. Since these radiation-emitting elements have always been a normal part of our environment, they are called naturally occurring radioactive material, or NORM.

What is the impact of radiation on humans?

Human beings are exposed to radiation from several sources, including NORM, the sun’s rays, and medical procedures. Low-level exposure is constant and can alter molecules in the human body, but the body generally protects itself from long-term damage with routine repair mechanisms. In contrast, higher levels of exposure can lead to permanent damage and can contribute to the development of cancer and other diseases. 1

What are the recommended threshold levels for radiation exposure?

The EPA has determined that any exposure to radiation carries some risk, and, as exposure doubles, risk doubles. Routes of exposure include inhalation, ingestion, and direct (external) exposure. 2, 3 One threshold for exposure set by the EPA applies to community drinking water systems. 4, 5, 6 Household radon levels and management have also been addressed by the EPA. 7

Why is it relevant to shale development?

Shale and soil particulates at the earth’s surface contain some level of NORM, but generally not in damaging amounts. NORM can be higher, however, in buried shale deposits, especially in the Marcellus Shale of northeast Pennsylvania, with emissions of up to 20 times the amount of radioactivity found in normal background emissions at the earth’s surface. Radioactive materials can also become unusually concentrated in fluids and solids from human activity such as road building, mining, and energy development, forming what is called technologically enhanced radioactive material (TENORM). The processes of drilling and hydraulic fracturing in underground shale basins can thus introduce TENORM into the liquid and solid wastes from the site. Additionally, in the presence of high salt content, radioactive materials can form solids, which accumulate on the inside of pipes and equipment, posing a particular risk for oil and gas workers. 8

Does NORM from shale development pose a risk to nearby communities?

Several recent studies have looked into the question of how much radiation communities may be exposed to during shale exploration and development. A 2012 Wilkes University study of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale basin suggested that improper management of liquid and solid wastes from well sites could potentially compromise drinking water supplies, especially those downstream from water treatment plants that receive shale development wastewater. The researchers concluded that radiation risks from both liquid and solid wastes and from radon may vary by region – and even across drilling sites within a region. 9 Another report from the University of Maryland School of Public Health reached a similar conclusion -  that more information is needed, not just about radiation levels in wastewater and solid waste from shale development sites, but also at water treatment plants and landfills that receive this waste. Ultimately, it is important to examine potentially impacted drinking water for radiation levels. 10

In early 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a report that assessed potential worker and public radiation exposure from shale development in the state. 11 The report concluded that there is little potential risk of radiation exposure to workers and the public from the development and production of natural gas or from the disposal and treatment of wastes, provided that the fluids are not spilled. The report therefore recommended that the state should add radium to its spill protocols; it also noted that long-term disposal protocols for TENORM waste should be reviewed.

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

Landowners:  The EPA recommends that individuals with private water wells test annually for constituents of concern, in this case radionuclides and radon. If standards are exceeded, the agency suggests retesting immediately and contacting local health officials. Some local health departments may provide free water testing. The EPA also suggests being aware of nearby activities that could potentially compromise well water. 12 Some states recommend that all private wells and community drinking water supplies be tested within a five-mile radius of a well pad. 13 Routine indoor radon testing is also recommended by the EPA, and in fact is required by some states as part of real estate transactions. 14

Local officials:  One example of a community solution to protect against potentially radioactive solid waste has been to test dump trucks as they enter a landfill. Using an outdoor radiation monitor will detect any radioactivity that exceeds a set threshold above background levels.

State officials:  In 2011, the Pennsylvania DEP set a statewide model for management of wastewater from shale development, requesting that operators not send this byproduct to water treatment facilities that discharge into waterways. As a result, almost 97% of wastewater from Pennsylvania energy operations is now recycled, injected into underground receiving wells, or treated at facilities that do not discharge into waterways. 15

Operators:  Both the Wilkes University and the University of Maryland studies recommend that energy development companies and municipal road maintenance crews refrain from applying wastewater fluids to roads as a de-icing and dust control technique until further investigation can determine the safety of this practice. While the Pennsylvania DEP study found little potential for exposure from wastewater-treated roads, it still recommended further study of the issue. 


  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Radiation and Health,” updated June 29, 2015,
  2. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Radiation and Radioactivity,” last updated January 23, 2013,
  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Radiation Doses in Perspective,” last updated 9/24/2013,
  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Radionuclides in Drinking Water,” updated March 6, 2012,
  5. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Radionuclides Rule, June 2001,
  6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “A Regulator’s Guide to the Management of Radioactive Residuals from Drinking Water Treatment Technologies,July 2005,
  7. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon, updated August 4, 2015,
  8. Courtney Sperger, Kristin Cook, Kenneth Klemow, “Does Marcellus Shale Pose a Radioactivity Risk?” Institute for Energy and Environmental Research of Northeastern Pennsylvania Clearinghouse, August 1, 2012,
  9. Sperger et al., “Does Marcellus Shale Pose a Radioactivity Risk?”
  10. Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health (School of Public Health: University of Maryland), “Potential Public Health Impacts of Natural Gas Development and Production in the Marcellus Shale in Western Maryland,July 2014,
  11. Perma-Fix Environmental Services, Inc.,”Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (TENORM) Study Report,” prepared for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (January 2015),
  12. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Water: Private Wells,” updated March 6, 2012,
  13. Pennsylvania State University Extension Agency, “Drinking Water,” accessed November 21, 2014,
  14. U.S. EPA, “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon,” updated August 4, 2015,
  15. The Associated Press, “Marcellus Shale Gas Drillers Recycling More Waste,” The Times-Tribune (Scranton, PA),February 17, 2012,

What health considerations are there?

What health considerations are there?

Table 4: Fracturing fluid additives and main compounds 1

Additive Type

Main Compound(s)



hydrochloric or muriatic acid

Helps dissolve minerals and initiate cracks in the rock

Antibacterial agent


Eliminates bacteria in the water that produce corrosive byproducts


Ammonium persulfate

Allows a delayed breakdown of the fracturing gel

Clay stabilizer

Potassium chloride

Brine carrier fluid

Corrosion Inhibitor

N,n-dimethyl formamide

Prevents the corrosion of pipes


Borate salts

Maintains fluid viscosity



Lowers surface tension and allows gas to escape


Acetic acid (with NH4 and NaNO2)

Reduces fluid volume and improves proppant carrying capacity

Friction Reducer

Petroleum distillate

Minimizes friction in pipes

Gel guar gum


Helps suspend the sand in water

Iron Control

Citric Acid

Prevents precipitation of metal oxides

Oxygen Scavenger

Ammonium bisulfate

Maintains integrity of steel casing of wellbore; protects pipes from corrosion by removing oxygen from fluid

pH Adjusting Agent

Sodium or potassium carbonate

Adjusts and controls pH of fluid


Silica, sometimes ceramic particles

Holds open (props) fractures to allow fluids (oil and/or natural gas) to escape from shale

Scale Inhibitor

Ethylene glycol

Reduces scale deposits in pipe


Stoddard solvent, various aromatic hydrocarbons

Improve fluid wettability or ability to maintain contact between the fluid and the pipes



Increases the viscosity of the fracture fluids and prevents emulsions


  1. Adgate, Goldstein, and McKenzie, “Potential Public Health Hazards,” 8311.

What health considerations are there?

What health considerations are there?

Water Quality

What chemicals are used in the hydraulic fracturing process?

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping fracturing fluid into oil and gas wells at high pressure in order to fracture underground rock formations and release the hydrocarbons within. Fracturing fluid contains a combination of chemicals to reduce friction, prevent the growth of microorganisms, and prevent corrosion and damage to the wellbore and pipes. According to an EPA analysis of operator disclosures to FracFocus, chemical additives generally make up less than 1% by mass of the fluid; approximately 88% by mass is water. 1 The remainder of the mixture (approximately 10% by mass) consists of a proppant – usually silica sand – which is added to the fluid to hold open the fractures created in the shale formation and allow the oil or gas to flow.

The chemical components of the fracturing fluid vary, depending on the company and the characteristics of the well site. (See Table 4 for a list of common components in fracturing fluid and their uses.) The EPA analysis found that a median of 14 additive ingredients were used in fracturing fluids, ranging from 4 to 28 ingredients (5th to 95th percentile), but there were only a few ingredients that appeared in more than half the disclosures. 2 Some of the potential fracturing fluid additives are known to be toxic to mammals and harmful to human health, even at very low doses. 3 4 In order to determine risks to human health, potential exposures, and exposure pathways need to be taken into account. In light of the diversity of fracturing fluid composition, the EPA study noted the importance of considering specific company practices at the local level. 5  

The FracFocus website, a joint initiative of the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, encourages companies to disclose the chemicals used in fracturing fluid. Initially voluntary, by late 2013 companies in 14 states were required to report the chemicals used in their shale development operations on FracFocus. 6  Another 6 states imposed some level of disclosure requirements, and this area of legislation continues to evolve. The EPA analysis notes that its assessment of FracFocus disclosures was limited in part by the designation of some of fracturing fluid ingredients as confidential business information (CBI). Over 70% of the disclosures reviewed in the study contained at least one ingredient designated as CBI. 7 The operator practice of claiming some fracturing fluids as confidential information has caused some stakeholders to assert the information on FracFocus is incomplete and/or unreliable. 

Finally, some companies have developed “green” fracturing fluids that reduce the volume of water required and/or replace some of the toxic chemicals with safer ones, including eco-friendly biocides. 8, 9, 10  These green alternatives may become more widely used as the technology improves and the price drops, particularly in areas where freshwater supplies are limited. 11

What happens to the fracturing fluid after it is pumped into the well?

Once the fracturing fluid has been injected into the shale formation, some of it returns to the surface as flowback. The amount of flowback returning varies widely depending on the geologic characteristics of the formation, ranging from 30% to 70% of the original volume, 12 while the remaining portion of the injected fluid remains trapped in the shale. After it interacts with the existing water and minerals in the target formation and the wellbore, the composition of the injected fluid changes. When the flowback returns to the surface, it can contain total dissolved solids (TDS), heavy metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) from the deep rock strata (See Box 8. Focus on Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material) . Most of the flowback emerges in the first two weeks after hydraulic fracturing has taken place. After that, a small amount of fluid, referred to as produced water, continues to flow from the well along with the oil or gas during production. Produced water is the naturally occurring fluid present in the target formation (see Box 7. Components of Produced Water). For the purposes of this guidebook, we will hereafter refer to both types of water flowing from the well as produced water.


Box 7. Components of Produced Water 

The water in the target geologic formation, which comes up to the surface as a component of hydraulic fracturing wastewater, can contain the following constituents:

  • total dissolved solids (TDS), which are mostly salts 
  • heavy metals, such as lead, arsenic, and chromium, which are harmful to human health even at low concentrations and can bioaccumulate in food chains
  • VOCs, including the BTEX chemicals
  • NORM, which is present in small amounts in shale and other geological formations (see Box 8. Focus on Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials)

How is wastewater handled?

There are several options for the management and disposal of well site wastewater, which includes produced water. First, it is temporarily stored at the site, either in open pits (which may or may not have a protective liner) or tanks. The industry is increasingly moving toward the use of tanks because the risk of wastewater seeping into the groundwater is greater with open pits. Furthermore, open pits can overflow during periods of heavy rains, allowing the wastewater to enter surface waters; wastewater in the pits can also evaporate, introducing pollutants into the air. With tanks, it is easier to detect and plug any leaks. On the other hand, tanks are more likely to have catastrophic failures, leading to the release of all their contents. For this reason, tanks are often surrounded by a secondary containment. 13 Many states require secondary containments, but most have yet to set standards for tank materials, which can also be a concern. 14 For example, produced water may corrode uncoated steel over time. 

Some companies recycle the wastewater for reuse in their fracturing operations and other uses. One method of disposal is to inject the wastewater in deep underground wells, which are isolated from water sources by thousands of feet of impermeable rock. These wells are permitted under the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program, which is regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). There are six categories (or classes) of UIC injection wells; the oil and gas industry uses Class II injection wells to 1) permanently dispose of wastewater or 2) reinject it at the site of a production well in order to improve the recovery of the resource (see Figure 3). This method of disposal is more common in states where the underlying geology is favorable.

The wastewater could also be transported by truck or pipeline to a municipal treatment facility that is permitted to process industrial waste and drilling wastewater, either nearby or in another state. Questions have been raised, however, as to whether municipal treatment facilities have the capacity to handle the volume and type of wastewater generated by shale operations, and some facilities have refused to accept wastewater from shale operations. 1516 The wastewater could also be processed at a private industrial treatment facility that conforms to the same or similar regulatory requirements as the public treatment plants. Finally, depending on the treatment process, the wastewater can also be recycled for use in other industrial operations, as irrigation water, or even as drinking water.  

Figure 3. Produced Water Management Options

Source: Independent Petroleum Association of America, “Induced Seismicity.”

How is wastewater containing NORM handled?

If the levels of NORM (see Box 8. Focus on Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material) in the wastewater exceed standards set by state regulations or by OSHA for exposure risks, the operator is required to take it to a facility licensed to process such waste. Companies must comply with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) standards for hazardous waste. 17 If the NORM levels are lower than those standards, then the wastewater can be disposed of using the methods described above for wastewater from oil and gas operations. 

Could the water resources in my community be exposed to hazardous chemicals?

The principal pathway for the chemicals and other contaminants involved in shale development to enter local waterways is through improper management and disposal of wastewater or spills. Containment ponds, impoundments, and tanks can leak, allowing wastewater to enter surface and groundwater. Accidents involving the trucks transporting wastewater or other hazardous materials can result in spills, as can faulty equipment and human error. Additional water quality degradation may result from increased sedimentation caused by the construction of well pads and use of unpaved roads.

Determining the frequency of spills can be difficult because there is no national reporting system for oil and gas industry spills and other incidents, although state and federal regulations require reporting to states under certain circumstances. One EPA analysis of available data from 11 states from the period from 2006 to 2012 identified 457 spills at hydraulic fracturing well pad sites. 18 Low-volume spills (up to 1,000 gallons) were the most common, with relatively few high-volume spills (20,000 gallons or more). Produced water was the material most frequently spilled, usually due to human error. The incidents most often took place at storage units. The study found that the spilled material came into contact with the environment in over half the incidents, mostly with the soil, although in 33 cases the fluid reached surface or groundwater. Operators are required to have procedures and systems in place to properly manage any incidents or spills that might occur.

Some have expressed concern about another pathway for the chemicals involved in shale development to reach water resources – the possibility of fracturing fluid or other contaminants migrating into underground aquifers during the hydraulic fracturing process. The Geological Society of America notes that thus far there are possibly two such cases, and in one of them the fracturing operation was within 420 feet of the aquifer. 19 In general, fracturing activities are isolated from groundwater sources by thousands of feet of impermeable rock, 20 although wells must be drilled through usable groundwater in order to reach shale formations below. At groundwater depths, wellbores are encased in multiple thick layers of steel casing and concrete in order to prevent communication between the wellbore and water resources. Groundwater can become contaminated, however, if this protective casing and cement fails due to poor construction, and there have been instances of this occurring. 21 It is also possible that drilling the shallow section of a new well could allow for temporary communication between subsurface contaminants and groundwater resources before the well is cased.

It can be difficult to ascertain whether shale development operations have adversely affected local water supplies, largely because 1) baseline studies are not often performed and 2) many basins can naturally contain some of the hydrocarbons and metals accompanying shale development, such as methane. Nonetheless, the current scientific evidence indicates it is much more likely for leaks and spills to lead to surface water contamination than for the drilling and hydraulic fracturing of a well to cause groundwater contamination. 22

The U.S. EPA has been studying the potential impact of shale development operations on drinking water resources, and released a draft assessment summarizing existing science and new EPA research in June 2015. 23 This external review draft concludes that although there are mechanisms through which shale development could impact drinking water resources, the study team did not find evidence of widespread, systemic impacts on U.S. drinking water supplies. It notes that the failure to detect such drinking water impacts could be due to 1) the absence of impacts on a nationwide scale or 2) insufficient and/or unavailable data.

Finally, emerging technologies might help to resolve some questions around water quality. There are efforts underway to develop tracers for fracturing fluids, which could help determine the fluid’s fate in the environment. 24


  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Research and Development (ORD), “Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Data from the FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry 1.0” (Washington, DC:  March 2015), 62.
  2. U.S. EPA ORD, “Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Data,” 63.
  3. American Chemical Society, “A new look at what’s in “fracking” fluids raises red flags” (August 13, 2014).  
  4. U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce, Minority Staff, “Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing” (April 2011), 1-2.
  5. U.S. EPA ORD, “Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Data,” 65-66.
  6. U.S. Department of Energy, “Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Task Force Report on FracFocus 2.0” (Washington, DC:  March 28, 2014), 9. 
  7. U.S. EPA ORD, “Analysis of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Data,” 63- 64.
  8. Patrick J. Kiger, “Green Fracking?  5 Technologies for Cleaner Shale Energy,” National Geographic Daily News, March 19, 2014
  9. Apache Corporation, “Greener Chemicals,” accessed October 3, 2015 
  10. Nathaniel Gronwold, “Entrepreneurs Turn to Bacteria to Fight Fracking Corrosion,” (July 3, 2014), Energywire.
  11. Kiger, “Green Fracking?”
  12. U.S. DOE, Modern Shale Gas, Development in the United States: A Primer (2009), 66. 
  13. Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), “State Oil & Gas Regulations Designed to Protect Water Resources” (2014), 11
  14. GWPC, “State Oil and Gas Regulations,” 11.
  15. Adgate, Goldstein, and McKenzie, “Potential Public Health Hazards,”8313.
  16. Geological Society of America, “Hydraulic Fracturing,” 12.
  17. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water, A Regulators’ Guide to the Management of Radioactive Residuals from Drinking Water Treatment Technologies (Washington, DC:  2005).
  18. The study authors note that this number is likely an under-estimate of total spills rated to shale development due to the difficulty of distinguishing them from other types of spills in the oil and gas sector and to incomplete data. The study also only took spills at well pad sites into account. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development, Review of State and Industry Spill Data: Characterization of Hydraulic Fracturing-Related Spills (Washington, DC:  May 2015), 27.
  19. Geological Society of America, “Hydraulic Fracturing,” 10.
  20. An EPA analysis of disclosures to FracFocus found a median well depth of 8,100 feet, with a range of 2,900 to 13,000 feet (5th to 95th percentile).
  21. Paleontological Research Institution, “Water: Out of the Wells,” Marcellus Shale 8 (November 2011), 10 
  22. Adgate, Goldstein, and McKenzie, “Potential Public Health Hazards,” 8312.
  23. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development, Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources: Executive Summary (External Review Draft) (Washington, DC:  June 2015), ES-6. At the time of release of this guidebook, the EPA’s draft assessment is under review by the Science Advisory Board and is market as not for citation. For this reason, other than mentioning the report’s preliminary main conclusions, we are not drawing on any further details from this report in this version of the guidebook.
  24. Dave Levitan, “Algae in Glass Cases Could Determine Fracking’s Toll,” Scientific American (March 6, 2014).

What resources can provide further information?

What resources can provide further information?

Water Quality

  • LawAtlas, “Water Quality:  Permitting, Design, and Construction Map” (updated April 30, 2014). This interactive map displays information on the laws and regulations relating to water quality and shale development in a set of states within the major shale formations. The map is curated by the Intermountain Oil and Gas BMP Project, which is housed at the University of Colorado Law School. It contains information on water quality laws for the following aspects of development:  permitting, design, and construction; well drilling; well completion; production and operation; and reclamation.

What health considerations are there?

What health considerations are there?

Water Quality

There could be some localized water quality impacts as a result of seismic exploration activities. As mentioned above, the creation of survey lines or vehicle track marks can cause surface disturbance. If not restored, they can lead to erosion and runoff into waterways. Earthworks, a nonprofit advocacy organization working to protect communities and the environment from the adverse impacts of mineral and energy development, indicates a few considerations for private well owners with regard to seismic testing. For example, private well water could be affected if the shot holes reach the water table and are not properly plugged. 1 In this case, the shot holes could provide a pathway for contaminants to the groundwater supplying the wells. Earthworks also notes that underground seismic explosions could also impact subsurface water flow and pressure, potentially reducing well water supply. 2


  1.  Earthworks, Oil and Gas at Your Door? pp. I-7.
  2. Earthworks, Oil and Gas at Your Door? pp. I-7.

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

What can be done to address health concerns? What have others done?

Local Officials

Once exploration activities start to become apparent, community members will likely start to form expectations around potential shale development. It can be useful at that point to put the activities in context. Local officials, operators, and seismic survey company representatives can assist by notifying residents and community leaders that surveying will take place, providing information on what to expect, and clarifying the likelihood that initial exploration activities will lead to next steps—and if so, on what time frame. These topics could be addressed at local town or county board meetings, local planning or zoning hearings, or an informational open house. 

Given that there can be a number of operators and seismic survey companies exploring an area, it is important to make an effort to include all of them in the planning and execution of community outreach activities.

Industry Representatives

The American Petroleum Institute (API), an industry association, has produced a set of guidelines for oil and gas operators on how to communicate with and engage local stakeholders around their projects. The document notes that many operators are already following practices similar to those described in the guidelines, and that its recommendations are “typical and reasonable” under normal operating circumstances. 1 The guidelines offer engagement options for all phases of the project development cycle, including the initial entry phase. Acknowledging that different operators can be exploring the same area, the guidelines suggest that companies coordinate with each other when reaching out to local stakeholders.  

The guidelines emphasize early two-way communication and proactive outreach to stakeholders, which companies should maintain throughout the life of the project. Other key recommendations for this phase include setting professional standards for both contractors and employees, providing training, and conveying company guidelines for safety, environmental, and health practices. It is also important to manage the expectations of stakeholders and contractors, especially given that the project often does not proceed past this stage. Companies should therefore develop a strategy for withdrawal and communicating to stakeholders about that scenario, even in this initial phase. 

The seismic survey company can undertake a number of actions to reduce community impact. The API guidelines encourage operators to work with their contractors as well as local agencies and officials to promote road safety and good traffic management. 2 To avoid interfering with regular traffic patterns, for example, the seismic survey team often meets with local officials to learn about peak travel times in the area, school bus routes, and the optimal areas for parking. They also meet with the official in charge of local infrastructure to learn which roads and bridges to avoid or to upgrade prior to seismic survey work. 

Some survey companies use the following methods to reduce the impacts of their activities:

  • obtaining permission from landowners before conducting seismic tests on private property
  • establishing a safe buffer zone between seismic testing activities and potentially sensitive structures or objects
  • when clearing paths (lines) for seismic equipment, cutting narrow lanes, including slight bends to prevent  predators having an easy view of their prey; avoiding valuable trees; and avoiding the creation of ruts
  • plugging shot holes on both ends
  • removing all equipment, materials, stakes and waste after testing is done
  • repairing any rutting or surface disturbance that may have occurred

Finally, companies might also discuss their survey plans with landowners to help them avoid sensitive or valuable areas. The surveyor might seek to conduct seismic tests as far from surface waters as possible to reduce the potential for erosion and runoff into bodies of water.


Earthworks, a nonprofit advocacy organization working to protect communities and the environment from the adverse impacts of mineral and energy development, has developed a handbook for landowners in areas where oil and gas development is taking place. Among other recommendations, Earthworks suggests that landowners discuss the placement of the equipment or the location of the seismic testing activities with the company before the tests take place to minimize any surface disturbance. If property owners are using a well for drinking water, Earthworks advises landowners to consider testing the water before and after seismic exploration on their property to establish a baseline and allow them to note any changes that take place. For more on potential impacts and tips for landowners, see the resources section below.  


  1. American Petroleum Institute (API), Community Engagement Guidelines, ANSI/API Bulletin 100-3, first edition (July 2014)
  2. API, Community Engagement, pp. 6.

What resources can provide further information?

What resources can provide further information?

Water Quality Monitoring

  • Garfield County, Colorado, Department of Public Health, “Water Treatment Decision Guide.” This guide gives guidance to well owners on how to interpret the results of well water quality laboratory reports and gives guidance on what actions to take in light of the results.
  • Penn State Extension, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences website, “Drinking Water.” The Penn State Extension website contains information, recorded webinars, and resources on how to test private well water and interpret the results.
  • Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project website, “Water.” The Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWP-EHP) is a nonprofit environmental health organization that offers support to Southwestern Pennsylvania residents who are concerned about the health impacts of gas drilling. The website contains guidelines, step-by-step guidance, and tips for testing private well water.