Key Legal Issues with Hydraulic Fracturing

Environmental Training Resource
May 29, 2012 — 1,329 views  
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More and more companies that engage in hydraulic fracturing are finding themselves in court. Some of the main court cases involve harm to physical property and health, land use regulations and whistleblowing.

Harm to Physical Property and Health

Many states have seen lawsuits alleging that fracking contaminates drinking water. In addition to asking for compensation for damage to property, people are alleging dangers to their health. Many states have begun to regulate the process based on environmental law concerns.

Wyoming’s Oil and Natural Gas Commission created strong disclosure regulations governing fracking that were considered models for other states to follow. However, the commission granted over 50 exemptions to companies that allowed them not to report the chemicals that they used during the hydraulic fracturing process. The exemptions were designed to protect companies’ trade secrets.

A group of environmentalists brought suit against the commission to require them to stop granting the exemptions. The group says that citizens have a right to know what goes into their drinking water even if companies don’t disclose their exact chemical recipes.

Land Use Regulations

Dryden, New York, is a suburb of Ithaca that recently passed laws prohibiting hydraulic fracturing within the borders of the town. Anschutz Exploration Corporation, which owns drilling permits involving 22,000 acres of Dryden land, filed suit against the town in response. Anschutz argued that New York’s Environmental Conservation Law specifically prohibits towns from regulating drilling practices.

Dryden successfully persuaded the judge that while the law does not allow the town to regulate drilling, the law does not keep them from regulating where the drilling can take place. The Dryden case could set a precedent that gives town zoning committees leverage against companies that engage in fracking.


Weston Wilson worked for the EPA in Denver, Colorado. In 2004, Wilson came forward to say that natural gas industry influence had affected the way that the EPA reported on hydraulic fracturing. According to Wilson, the EPA’s report that convinced Congress to exempt fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act was altered from the inside to protect the industry. The panel knew that benzene and other chemicals could migrate into groundwater, but they willfully chose to suppress the information. Wilson’s testimony led Congress to reopen the investigation of the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water in 2010.

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