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Policy Issue Brief: Hydraulic Fracturing

The State of Affairs

The United States’ energy demands have grown considerably throughout time and are continuing to grow. Heightened interest in harnessing the U.S.’s internal energy sources has sparked a natural gas revolution known as the Great Shale Rush (2). Unconventional methods of gas extraction, like hydraulic fracturing, have become extremely prevalent within the past few decades. Large-scale production of shale gas is now economically viable due to advances in horizontal drilling technology and modern hydraulic fracturing procedures. The wells utilized with hydraulic fracturing are estimated as being 2-3 times more productive than traditional wells (3). Today, there are approximately 500,000 active wells in the U.S. that produce roughly 9.35 trillion cubic feet of gas annually (4).

Increasing numbers of fracturing wells have triggered environmental and social outcry about the process’ safety. The Great Shale Rush poses serious threats to ecological and anthropological wellbeing. The lack of chemical disclosure and frequent well casing accidents are of particular concern. Water contamination and negative health impacts have sparked several reform attempts, at state and federal levels. Improved regulation that balances economic, ecological, and social aspects would allow the industry to continue thriving while satisfying public interests. New policy needs to address chemical disclosure, improvement of well casing, and harsher punishment for fracking accidents.

Hydraulic fracturing first began in the 1940s and has grown extensively in recent years. The discovery of expansive “shale plays” in the United States, most notably the Marcellus Shale, Utica Shale, and Bartlett Shale, have significantly intensified production levels. (6). Currently, there are around 500,000 active natural gas wells in the U.S. Current annual production rates are greater than 9.35 x 1011 cubic feet of gas (according to 2013 reports). The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that roughly 2,119 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas exists in the United States. Roughly 60% of this resource is “unconventional gas” stored in low permeability formations such as shale, coal beds, and tight sands (7). The EIA projects that by 2035, shale gas production will increase to 340 billion cubic meters per year. This amounts to 47% of the projected gas production in the United States (8).

However, despite the economic prosperity that hydraulic fracturing offers, there are legitimate environmental and ethical concerns regarding the practice. Water contamination, increased methane levels in water, and undisclosed chemicals are serious worries. Another pressing issue is industry exemption from several key acts of environmental safety legislation (9). These pieces of legislation include, most notably, the Safe Drinking Water Act as well as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act (10). The exemption from the SDWA, especially, has experienced scrutiny from its direct tie to the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Commonly referred to as the “Halliburton Loophole” by legislators, NGOs, and the public alike, this loophole of the 2005 “EPAct”

disabled the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating fracking procedures. The policy also exempted fracking companies from disclosing what materials they inject into the ground. Furthermore, the Act diminished the requirement of “disclosing the concentrations and formulas of chemical solutions they (companies) inject into the ground to stimulate shale gas production” (12). Considering that Halliburton created hydraulic fracturing and they self-exempted themselves from federal regulation, skepticism and decries of industry corruptness are not too surprising.


– 1825: Shale gas first extracted in Fredonia, New York

– 1949: Fracking technique takes off when Halliburton Oil Well Cementing Company conducts two commercial hydraulic fracking treatments

– 1960s: Pan American Petroleum first uses a process called “massive hydraulic fracturing,” which injects high volume fluids and proppants underground

– 1984: Oil and Gas Act regulates drilling procedures

– 1990s: Modern era of hydraulic fracturing begins

– 2011: FRAC Act first introduced

In 1996, shale gas wells in the United States produced 0.3 trillion cubic feet, which was roughly 1.6% of U.S. gas production. By 2005, there were 14,990 shale gas wells in the U.S. In 2006, production had more than tripled to 1.1 trillion cubic feet per year, being approximately 5.9% of U.S. gas production (15).

Current Policy:

Over the years, numerous bills have been drafted and rejected by the House and Senate. The most common suggestions include improving drilling impact fees, providing definitions, protecting water sources, and disclosing chemical compositions. A few of these attempts include H.B. 1950, H.B. 1680, and S.B. 1226 (each introduced in the 2011 – 2012 session) as well as the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act – commonly referred to as the FRAC Act (16).

The FRAC Act of 2011 was introduced to both branches of the 111th U.S. Congress in 2009 by democratic political figures Diana DeGette and Jared Polis of Colorado as well as Maurice Hinchey of New York. The same bill was re-introduced to the House and the Senate in 2011 by representative Diana DeGette and PA senator Robert Casey (19). The main initiative was to amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that exempts the fracking industry from the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and to disclose the chemical compositions. The Act also aimed to change the definition of “underground injection” to include fracking, but not subterranean natural gas storage (20). It attempted to regulate hydraulic fracturing at a federal level as well, but enabled states to implement their own regulations on top of existing federal ones.

In addition to disclosure, the FRAC Act would also help to enact an emergency provision requiring chemical formulas to be provided to a treating physician, the State, or the EPA in emergency situations (21). This would be “regardless of a written statement of need or a confidentiality agreement,” meaning that the trade secret privilege would not stand in such cases. However, chemical formulas would not need to be public knowledge, which upholds the right to chemical trade secrets (22).

Policy recommendations:

In order to maintain environmental integrity as well as to satisfy human health concerns, the FRAC Act should be amended and then implemented into federal law. A few steps towards such policy alterations have already begun. In Pennsylvania, recently elected governor Tom Wolf has confirmed in an NBC report that he believes exploration companies should publicly disclose chemicals utilized for fracking. Acknowledging this agreement, discussions about industry regulations could soon be re-opened (23). While requiring nation-wide reforms will upset the fracking industry in terms of economic prosperity, the level of detriment experienced would be fractional (24). In addition to the Act’s written requests, several other improvements should arguably be included. First and foremost, law should require drilling companies to supply a detailed list of all chemicals utilized in their fracking fluid. Companies should include the precise percentages of chemicals used in their solutions for the EPA to analyze before drilling. The fracking fluid chemical list should also be available to the public through an open online site. However, the percentages and “recipe” of such frack solutions should remain publically undisclosed to protect from copyright infringement (trade secrets).

Furthermore, the durability of cement casings used within frack wells should be significantly improved to protect against the threat of water contamination. Such pieces of equipment should be highly regulated and cleared by certified specialists before being utilized. In the attempt to maintain environmental health standards, all spills and related accidents should also be reported immediately to the EPA and state-appropriate regulatory offices like the PA DEP. These practices could be overviewed by teams of environmental scientists and geologists working on fracking pads throughout the gas extraction process. Finally, to take one further step towards community water protection and societal wellbeing, the permitted distance between fracking pads and shared water sources, farms, residential areas, and state lands should be increased. The current 200-foot distance– as deemed by the Oil and Gas Act of 1984 – should rise to a minimum of no less than 500 feet (26). 


Natural gas and hydraulic fracturing is the future of U.S. energy. Knowing that fracking will be continuing for years to come, implementing improved safety policies will allow the industry to continue growing and thriving while satisfying environmental and anthropological health concerns. The procedure must balance economic prosperity with ecological integrity to enable the greatest success in the long run. Industry and procedural regulation through the FRAC Act and its suggested amendments will fulfill such interests. Publically disclosing fracking chemicals will grant the public ‘s right to know what is being injected into their land – or what could be contaminating their water. Privileging healthcare personal with fracking companies’ formulas will enable more informed medical diagnoses to be administered. Furthermore, strengthening well casings, reporting hazardous incidents, and increasing the distance between well pads and water sources will make hydraulic fracturing less harmful towards the environment overall. Developing comprehensive industry regulation, based on scientific data and appropriate state and federal oversight, will pave a positive path for future energy extraction technologies (27).



  1. Brantley, S., & Meyendorff, A. (image). The Facts on Fracking. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from
  2. Lavelle, M. (2010, October 22). Natural Gas Stirs Hope and Fear In Pennsylvania. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  3. Jackson, R., Pearson, B., Osborn, S., Warner, N., & Vengosh, A. (2010). Research and Policy Recommendations for Hydraulic Fracturing and Shale‐Gas Extraction. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
  4. S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  5. EIA – Annual Energy Outlook 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  7. Garrett, J. (2011, January 1). The FRAC Act: The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
  8. S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  9. Unchecked Fracking Threatens Health, Water Supplies. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  10. Environmental Defense Center | Climate Change. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  11. Hydraulic Fracking. (image) Retrieved April 14, 2015, from
  12. The Halliburton Loophole. (2009, November 2). Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  13. Hydraulic Fracturing: Six Decades of Unlocking U.S. Oil and Gas. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2015, from
  14. IEA: Marcellus Shale Gas Production Lowers U.S. Gas Prices. (2013, November 19). Retrieved April 14, 2015, from
  15. Wilber, T. (2012, January 5). Shale Gas Review. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  16. PA General Assembly. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  17. Slow Down Fracking in Athens County (SD-FRAC). (image). Retrieved April 14, 2015, from
  18. Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2013 (2013 – H.R. 1921). (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2015, from
  19. Lustgarten, A. (2009, June 9). FRAC Act—Congress Introduces Twin Bills to Control Drilling and Protect Drinking Water. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  20. Text of the FRAC Act. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  21. Pennsylvania’s Disclosure Rules: What The Frack’s In The Ground? (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  23. Governor Candidates: Where They Stand. (2014, May 17). Retrieved April 2, 2015.
  24. Pennsylvania Environmental Issues. (2011, June 20). Retrieved April 14, 2015, from
  25. Davenport, C. (2015, March 20). New Federal Rules Are Set for Fracking. Retrieved April 1, 2015.
  26. CHAPTER 78. OIL AND GAS WELLS. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015.


The Rise of Online Education in Our Schools: A Paradigm Shift

“School: an educational institution; a building where young people receive education.”

Since the founding of educational institutions, common associations of primary school are brick buildings, drab-colored classrooms, chalky blackboards, fluorescently illuminated hallways, teachers young and old, and hundreds of schoolchildren intently listening to their lessons. However, through historical and societal development, traditional concepts of the idyllic brick-and-mortar schools have been replaced by more innovative, unconventional educational options. Today, working in home, library, or coffee shop environments is now an increasingly typical, preferred, and promoted school setting.

Within the past two decades, fully virtual educational institutes known as cyber charter schools have appeared in the United States and are becoming increasingly prevalent. K-12 cyber charters first appeared in the 1990s, offering typical courses that traditional primary schools provided and utilizing teachers, classes, and grades in the same conventional manner. The only apparent difference between the two educational models was the physical location of an individual: in brick-and mortar building or in home (or alternative) environments. There are now thirty states plus the District of Columbia that have certified cyber charter schools. According to statistics from the 2010-2011 academic year, approximately 250,000 students from kindergarten to twelfth grade were enrolled in these fully online schools (Woodruff). A significant shift in educational styles is happening in our society due to technological advancements, altering societal values, and the multitude of benefits that students can experience by opting for alternative schooling methods.

Nationally, the popularity of cyber charter schools reflects a trend of expanding online demand that appears to be student-driven (Niederberger). Over the past ten to fifteen years, in particular, cyber charters have made a noticeable impact on educational, social, and economical spheres. Just in 2014 alone, $49.6 billion was invested in the e-learning economy. Today, there are more than three hundred fully virtual charter schools in the United States, fourteen of which are just in Pennsylvania. These schools are either operated completely independently from public schools districts as self-functioning entities or are created and managed by a public school itself. Regardless of whether they are entirely separate or are an online version of a particular public school, cyber charter schools are required to be fully accredited by the U.S. Department of Education and must meet annual yearly progress (AYP) standards in order to remain functioning (“Cyber”).

Increasing trends of choosing virtual education over traditional schooling are happening for several main reasons. The first, and arguably most prominent, reason is undoubtedly the advancement and availability of technology. Throughout history, changes in education and upgrades in technology have gone hand in hand. For instance, in 1728 the world’s first example of a “distance-learning” was established in Boston, Massachusetts that relied on lessons taught through the mail. Two hundred years later, Pennsylvania State University began to offer various courses through the radio (Infographic). Students would simply tune in their radios to the proper station and listen to their professors teach their lessons. Later in the 20th century, telephone and television learning programs developed and became quite popular. In culmination, in 1969 the U.S. Department of Defense invented the Internet, which soon dominated the technological world. Today, the Internet and computers are extremely prevalent in most aspects of life, including – unsurprisingly – education.

Illustrating this fact, by 2009, 97% of brick-and-mortar teachers had at least one computer in their classrooms and 54% of teachers brought personal computers into the classroom. Furthermore, 40% of students used computers in the classroom during their instructional times with a student to computer ration of 5.3 to 1. Technology is simply modern life nowadays, with 90% of Americans owning a smartphone, laptop, MP3 player, game console, e-book reader, or tablet and 26% of Americans owning a smartphone, laptop, and a tablet. Regarding these trends, growing integration of technology within education and the existence of fully online schooling therefore appears connected, expected, and seemingly inevitable.

Additionally, the rising numbers of cyber charter students are undoubtedly tied to the variety of benefits that this schooling choice gives individuals. Online education offers students increased flexibility of schedules that tradition schooling does not. This is particularly valued for children who are different or exemplary in some sense compared to the typical primary school student, like student athletes who must take significant time off school to train/to compete, young musicians who take private lessons at music schools during the day, children with severe allergies or asthma, and kids with certain disabilities. Also, this flexibility and constant openness of classes allows students to work at their own paces, whether faster or slower (Lips). Consequentially, this has proven to cause better retention of information and to make success more attainable.

Another significant advantage of online school is the availability of high-level courses (“Online Schools”). Cyber charter schools often provide access to unique, honors, or AP/IB classes that students otherwise would not be able to take in their home districts, whether due to lack of money, teaching staff, or high enough academic ability of the general student body. This option allows students to obtain further educational opportunities and to experience intellectual development, which benefits individual character as a whole.

This schooling choice is even arguable from an economic standpoint. Students enrolled in public cyber charter schools do not have to pay any additional fees to get this alternative education. Cyber school is paid for in the same way as regular public schools: through taxes. Money comes directly from children’s school districts to support their education, not from parents’ pockets. Plus, all required textbooks and course materials are provided just like brick-and-mortar schools. In nearly all cases, cyber students even get an additional benefit: any necessary technology is supplied to them, including personal computers, tablets, virtual writing pads, calculators, and science equipment.

Besides each of the legitimate reasons already discussed, another considerably important plus driving the “absolute online” trend is that cyber schooling enables early development of technological skills that are deemed vital in today’s society. According to 21st Century Cyber Charter School, one of the top cyber charters offered in Pennsylvania, “Cyber school students enter college and the workforce with a leg up on other students, as they are already intimately familiar with how technology can be integrated into their work environment” (Glick). Cyber students learn to communicate effectively through email, discussion boards, blogs, and virtual classroom chats (textual and vocal). Students also learn the importance of networking; asking for assistance when needed; being self-motivated, dedicated, and independent; and being proactive when questions, clarification, or further work is required. Therefore, cyber learning not only provides technological knowledge, but also develops beneficial character traits.

Analyzing the general trends of cyber charter entrance quantities, the likelihood of further enrollment, development, and utilization of online schools is quite strong. Today, there are more than 300 virtual charter schools in the United States with over 250,000 enrolled students. Based on graphical and textual information, this upward surge will surely continue in the future, with more students opting for online schooling environments and more cyber charter institutions being developed.

However, virtual education still has many opponents beyond its growing proponents. Arguments about cutting valuable teaching jobs, taking money away from a home school district, not getting enough socialization, and performing poorly in terms of state standards/on standardized tests are frequently debated amongst wary parents, teachers, and state governments. While these are each legitimate concerns, cyber charter schools actually refute most negative beliefs.

In terms of school performance, most virtual schools actually receive higher average test scores than their public counterparts. The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School’s average ACT and SAT scores (22.4 and 1515) are higher than both the state and national averages (21.9 & 1473 for Pennsylvania; 21 & 1509 for the country) (“Cyber”). Additionally, decreasing teaching jobs does not directly coincide with increased virtual school attendance. In fact, many teachers are simply switching from traditional schools to cyber instructional environments due to cyber schooling’s growing interest. Furthermore, although money is taken out of a school district to support a child who chooses cyber schooling, the same money would have been spent on the child regardless of where he/she attended school, meaning there is not net loss. Socialization is also a key element of virtual schools, with most taking bi or tri-monthly field trips, having in-house classes on occasion, and having live teacher-student tutoring sessions.

Even if fully online schools do not entirely replace traditional schooling systems in the near future, the “blended” schooling option of online and in-class classes will definitely increase as well (Goodin). According to an online public school enrollment study, current growth trends suggest that 50% of all courses in grades nine through twelve will be taken online by 2019. Reinforcing this allegation further, state education secretary Ron Tomalis has claimed about the future expansion of online education, “I think the days of old when you go to a school and [are told] ‘here’s your teacher, here’s your textbook and curriculum’ are over. I think blended learning will be more the norm in the future. It really individualizes learning. Technology allows us to have a platform that has a large reach.”



“Additional Information on Charter Schools.” PA Department of Education. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

“As Enrollment in Cyber Schools Rises So Do Questions About Quality and Accountability According to New National Study.” NEPC. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

“Cyber Charters in Pennsylvania Growing despite Issues.” Pittsburgh Post Gazette. 2 Sept. 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

“Cyber Charter Schools: The End of Public Education or a New Beginning?” MadameNoire RSS. 22 Nov. 2010. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

“Deschooling Society.” Web. 1 Nov. 2014. < Society>.

Goodin, Alma. “Online Or In Class: The Shifting Educational Paradigm.” Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

“Infographic History of Distance Education.” History of Distance & Online Education Infographic. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Julian, Liam. “The Rise of Cyber-Schools.” The New Atlantis. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Layton, Lyndsey, and Emma Brown. “Virtual Schools Are Multiplying, but Some Question Their Educational Value.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 Nov. 2011. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Lips, Dan. “How Online Learning Is Revolutionizing K-12 Education and Benefiting Students.” The Heritage Foundation. 12 Jan. 2010. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Niederberger, Mary. “Cyber Charters in Pennsylvania Growing Despite Issues.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 2 Sept. 2012. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

“Online Schools Face Backlash Amid Exploding Popularity, States Question Academic Results.” The Huffington Post., 3 Oct. 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Woodruff, Judy. “Online Public Schools Gain Popularity, but Quality Questions Persist.” PBS. PBS, 23 Feb. 2012. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.



“Cyber Charter Schools: The End of Public Education or a New Beginning?” MadameNoire RSS. 22 Nov. 2010. Web. 9 Nov. 2014.

Glick, Ashley. “Five Reasons to Go to Cyber School.” 21st Century Cyber Charter School. 31 Dec. 2013. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.

Lips, Dan. “How Online Learning Is Revolutionizing K-12 Education and Benefiting Students.” The Heritage Foundation. 12 Jan. 2010. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Niederberger, Mary. “Cyber Charters in Pennsylvania Growing Despite Issues.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 2 Sept. 2012. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.

“Online Schools Face Backlash Amid Exploding Popularity, States Question Academic Results.” The Huffington Post., 3 Oct. 2012. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Woodruff, Judy. “Online Public Schools Gain Popularity, but Quality Questions Persist.” PBS. PBS, 23 Feb. 2012. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.

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