Headwaters Magazine

A History of Hydraulic Fracking

Fracking Practices in the United States: A Timeline

1908: An early form of hydraulic fracturing is used to separate granite from bedrock.1

1947: Hydraulic fracturing is used for the first time to extract natural gas.2

1949: Halliburton becomes the first company to use hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas at an industrial magnitude.3 The technology used then bears little resemblance to what is used in contemporary fracking procedures. Drilling operations could not use the same pressures or magnitudes that they can today, so they could only extract natural gas present in loose geological formations.

1974: Congress passes the Safe Drinking Water Act to protect underground sources of drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency requires Underground Injection Control permits under the SDWA for any injection of a fluid (42 U.S.C. Sections 300h to 300h-8). The EPA also bans the injection of most hazardous materials and mandates regulation of all injected materials.4 But this same year the EPA rules that hydraulic fracturing does not fall under the regulatory power of the SDWA because its primary purpose is the extraction of natural gas, rather than the injection of hazardous material. Because of this, fracking operations are able to proceed unhindered by the new regulations.5

1987: An EPA report indicates water contamination in Jackson County, WV. The report shows that frack fluid had leaked from fractures in a well drilled by Kaiser Exploration and Mining Company and into the private water well of James Parson.6

1980s – early 1990s: Horizontal drilling is combined with hydraulic fracturing for the first time in a frack job of the Barnett Shale in north Texas.7

1996: Fracking in Alabama results in a lawsuit against the EPA by the Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation, alleging that injection of fluids for hydraulic fracturing must be regulated by the EPA under the SDWA.8

1997: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, flatly rejects the EPA’s legal position in LEAF v. EPA. The federal district court stated: “[We] conclude that hydraulic fracturing activities constitute underground injection under Part C of the SDWA. Since EPA’s contrary interpretation could not be squared with the plain language of the statute, we granted LEAF’s petition. … As LEAF correctly notes, wells used for the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids fit squarely within the definition of Class II wells. Accordingly, they must be regulated as such.” 9

1999: The present day form of hydraulic fracturing, which uses much higher pressures than earlier processes, is first used in the Barnett Shale in Texas.10 Formerly inaccessible gas reservoirs are now open for fracking.

2001: The EPA begins a study of the impacts of fracking on drinking water, stating: “As a result of the … lawsuit on hydraulic fracturing of coal bed methane wells, the EPA recognizes this issue raises concerns and is conducting an investigation to evaluate the potential risks to … drinking water.”

2001: Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force urges the EPA to conclude that it should not regulate fracking under the SDWA.11

2003: President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney back a sweeping national energy bill that includes a provision to exempt hydraulic fracturing from EPA drinking water regulation.

March 2004: Gas seeps into the home of 64-year-old Charles Harper and his 53-year-old wife, Dorothy, from one of several frack wells next to their property near Pittsburgh, PA. The gas collects until it explodes and, according to court records and news reports at the time, reduces the home to a pile of rubble. The bodies of the Harpers and their grandson, Baelee, are discovered under piles of debris across the road.12

June 2004: An EPA report on fracking says fracking fluids are toxic and that some portion of these toxic fluids remain in the ground after a frack job. However, the report concludes that “injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into coal bed methane wells poses little or no threat” to drinking water supplies and “does not justify additional study at this time.” 13

July 2005: The U.S. Congress passes the Energy Policy Act of 2005, signed in August by President Bush, which includes a provision codifying that Congress never intended for hydraulic fracturing to be regulated under the SDWA.

July – August 2005: Citing the EPA’s 2004 study, Congress passes and President Bush signs the Energy Policy Act of 2005, exempting fracking from the SDWA. Prior to this, the EPA had the authority to investigate and regulate fracking, but the 2005 law retracts the EPA’s authority over fracking operations.14 This exemption for fracking is known as the “Halliburton loophole.”

September 2005: EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley stops the investigation into the mishandling of a hydraulic fracturing study, stating that the question of the EPA conducting a fraudulent study is no longer relevant since Congress had exempted fracking from the law.

2006: Drilling fluids and methane begin bubbling from the ground near a gas well in Clark, WY. A total of eight million cubic feet of methane is released into the atmosphere, and a nearby shallow water well is contaminated with fracking chemicals.15

November – December 2007: At least 22 water wells in Bainbridge, Ohio, are contaminated with drilling chemicals, one of which explodes due to the methane released from the well water.

September 2009: 13 wells in Dimock, PA, are contaminated with methane, causing one to explode. The gas company responsible for the faulty drilling project is forced to compensate residents and build a pipeline to supply safe drinking water to those affected.16

November 2009: A fracking wastewater impoundment catches fire and explodes in Avella, PA. Flames shoot 200 feet into the air, burn for six hours and produce a thick, black smoke cloud visible 10 miles away. Soil tests conducted at the site find arsenic at 6,430 times the permissible level and tetrachloroethene (a carcinogen and central-nervous-system suppressant) at 1,417 times the permissible level.17

June 2009: U.S. House Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and U.S. Senators Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduce the Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC ACT). The act would repeal fracking’s exemption from the SDWA. The act does not pass.

July 2009: Records show roughly 58,000 active gas wells in Pennsylvania.18

January 2010: Gasland, by Josh Fox, premiers at the Sundance Film Festival. The film shows clips of residents lighting their tap water on fire, a feat possible because of the high concentrations of methane due to nearby frack jobs.

July 2010: After fracking operations begin on a Clearville, PA, farm, elevated arsenic levels on the farmland cause a farmer’s livestock to lose control of their motor-skills and suddenly die.19

December 2010: The Hagy family in Jackson County, WV, sues four oil and gas companies for contaminating their drinking water, saying their water has “a peculiar smell and taste.” The parents, as well as their two children, suffer from neurological damage. 20

February 2010: When speaking about federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing, Steve Heare, director of the EPA’s Drinking Water Protection Division, says: “I have no information that states aren’t doing a good job already.” 21

February 2010: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), launches an investigation into potential environmental impacts from hydraulic fracturing. Citizen reports from numerous communities are filed with Waxman claiming that hydraulic fracturing has led to ground water contamination and public health risks.

2010: By request of the US Congress, the EPA issues a Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources, to be completed by 2014.22

May 2011: The Pennsylvania Agriculture Department quarantines 28 head of cattle on a farm in central Pennsylvania after they came in contact with wastewater leaking from a natural gas well holding pond. Farmers contacted the state after noticing that grass had died in the area. Tests find chloride, iron and other chemicals in the wastewater.23

June 2011: A well blowout in Clearwater County, PA, results in a gas explosion and a 16-hour uncontrolled spill of about a million gallons of toxic wastewater into a creek in Moshannon State Park.

November 2011: By request of the U.S. Congress, the EPA issues a Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources, to be completed by 2014. 2

December 2011: The EPA releases its draft report on Pavillion, WY. The report says that “detections of high concentrations of benzenes, xylenes, gasoline range organics, diesel range organics and … hydrocarbons in ground water samples from … wells near pits indicates that [frack] pits are a source of shallow ground water contamination.” At some wells the researchers found “water near-saturated in methane,” and in deep water wells, they also found chemicals used during the fracking process: gasoline, diesel fuel, BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene), naphthalenes and isopropanol. The report continues: “Detections of organic chemicals are more numerous and exhibit higher concentrations in the deeper of the two monitoring wells … [which] along with trends in methane, potassium, chloride and pH, suggest a deep source of contamination.” Investigators also found that the reports oil and gas companies filed detailing frack jobs listed chemicals used as “proprietary, … rendering identification of constituents impossible.”25

January 2012: Youngstown, Ohio, is hit by its 12th earthquake of the year. The most recent earthquake is located, like the others, very near a D&L fracking injection well where millions of gallons of fracking brine have been injected below the earth’s surface.

January 2012: Records show that there are over 64,000 fracking wells in Ohio.

January 2012: After thousands of reported cases of water contamination and millions of accidents associated with fracking, President Obama voices his support for natural gas extraction during his State of the Union address.


1^ Watson, T.L., Granites of the southeastern Atlantic states, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 426, 1910.

2 Howard, G.C. and C.R. Fast (editors), Hydraulic Fracturing, Monograph Vol. 2 of the Henry L. Doherty Series, Society of Petroleum Engineers New York, 1970.

3 Montgomery, Carl T.; Smith, Michael B. (December 2010). “Hydraulic Fracturing: History of an Enduring Technology”. Journal of Petroleum Technology (Society of Petroleum Engineers) 62 (12): 26–32. ISSN 0149-2136. Retrieved January 5, 2011.

4 http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/timeline-e28093-sdwa.pdf

5 http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/timeline-e28093-sdwa.pdf

6 Brown, Valerie J. (February 2007). “Industry Issues: Putting the Heat on Gas”. Environmental Health Perspectives (US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) (115(2)).

7 http://www.energyindepth.org/you-missed-a-spot-a-timeline-of-hydraulic-fracturing/

8 http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/timeline-e28093-sdwa.pdf

9 http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/timeline-e28093-sdwa.pdf

10Barnett Shale” Wikipedia. 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnett_Shal

11 http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/timeline-e28093-sdwa.pdf

12 http://www.propublica.org/article/water-problems-from-drilling-are-more-frequent-than-officials-said-731

13 http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/timeline-e28093-sdwa.pdf

14 http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/timeline-e28093-sdwa.pdf

15“Documents: Natural Gas’s Toxic Waste”. New York Times. 2011-02-26. Retrieved 2 May 2011.

16 http://www.propublica.org/article/water-problems-from-drilling-are-more-frequent-than-officials-said-731

17 http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_13535728

18 http://www.propublica.org/article/water-problems-from-drilling-are-more-frequent-than-officials-said-731

19 http://www.alternet.org/food/147634/fracking_with_food%3A_how_the_natural_gas_industry_poisons_cows_and_crops?page=entire

20 http://www.ewg.org/reports/cracks-in-the-facade

21 http://www.energyindepth.org/you-missed-a-spot-a-timeline-of-hydraulic-fracturing/

22 http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/upload/hf_study_plan_110211_final_508.pdf

23 http://www.iacenter.org/environment/fracking-chemicals071110//

24 http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/upload/hf_study_plan_110211_final_508.pdf

25 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_fracturing