Environmental Impacts

There are numerous steps involved in the process of accessing and distributing natural gas and petroleum from shale deposits and each involves a certain amount of risk to human health and the environment. The more information landowners and communities have, the more effectively they can manage these risks. This section of the Shale Library was developed to provide links to information specifically related to environmental risks and impacts associated with drilling operations in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in Ohio. This list is not exhaustive, these resources do provide a starting point for understanding the environmental impacts associated with oil and gas exploration in the Utica and Marcellus shale formations in Ohio. The resources have been organized by general category but are listed in no particular order within these categories.

Overview of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing and environmental impacts

These resources offer a general overview of drilling operations in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations and in particular the process of hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling. Understanding the drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes is helpful for understanding the associated environmental risks and impacts.

  • Shale Development and Extraction in Ohio. This YouTube video animation, produced by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, provides an overview of the drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes and related regulations to protect groundwater and describes the role of the Ohio DNR in regulating and inspecting drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes.
  • The Process of Hydraulic Fracturing is a US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) webpage that provides a very basic introduction to hydraulic fracturing and unconventional natural gas production.
  • Modern Shale Gas Development in the United States: A Primer was published by the US Department of Energy Office of Fossil Energy and National Energy Technology Laboratory in 2009. This 116-page document provides a thorough overview of shale gas development in the US; regulations pertaining to shale gas development, including environmental regulation; and environmental impacts. More than 30 pages are dedicated to environmental considerations alone.
  • Breaking Fuel From the Rock is a nicely illustrated slide set produced by National Geographic that can be viewed online. The slides demonstrate a typical horizontal well and drill site and explain how the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes work. The information in the slide set is based on drilling operations in Pennsylvania in the Marcellus Shale formation so some of the details related to state regulations and drilling depths may not be applicable to drilling operations in Ohio or in the Utica Shale formation. [Note: You may be required to create an account on the National Geographic website to have access to the slide set]
  • Hydraulic Fracturing: The Process is a webpage found on the FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry website. The FracFocus website is managed by the Ground Water Protection Council and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. This page provides a relatively detailed overview of the hydraulic fracturing process.
  • The FracFocus Chemical Disclosure Registry website contains numerous pages about chemical use in hydraulic fracturing, including Chemical Use in Hydraulic FracturingWhy Chemicals are Used, and What Chemicals are Used. The FracFocus website is used by Ohio and nine other states as a means to catalog and disclose to the public, what chemicals are used during the hydraulic fracturing process for a given well.

Environmental regulations associated with drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations

There are many regulations that drilling companies must comply with before, during, and after the drilling process. These resources provide an overview of these regulations. As noted above, these resources do not necessarily address all environmental regulations relevant to drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

  • How is drilling in the Marcellus and Utica Shales regulated by Ohio EPA? This page on the OEPA website gives a very cursory overview of Ohio EPA’s regulatory authority. You will also find links to other related information on the Ohio EPA and ODNR websites.
  • Summary of ODNR and Ohio EPA Regulatory Authority Over Oil/Gas Drilling and Production Activities is a webpage on the State of Ohio’s Ohio.gov website. This page provides a table summarizing which agency (Ohio EPA or ODNR) has regulatory authority over various aspects of drilling and waste management and gives a brief description of what specific activities are regulated.
  • BMP’s and Recommendations for Oil and Gas Activities on State of Ohio Lands is an 89-page document published by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and outlines best management practices (BMPs) for oil and gas exploration on state-owned property. The guidelines cover a wide range of activities including public safety; construction, maintenance, and restoration of the well pad, roads, and pipelines; and best practices to maintain wildlife habitat and reduce invasive species. These guidelines may also be helpful for private landowners who wish to include conservation provisions in their oil and gas leases.

Well pad construction

Before drilling operations can begin, an area called a well pad must be prepared. Construction of a well pad often requires moving a great deal of earth to create a flat area for the drilling operations, as well as access roads, berms to contain spills, and in some cases small reservoirs for storing fresh water or waste products. These resources provide information about best practices and regulations related to well pad and associated road and temporary storage facilities construction associated with oil and gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shales.

  • Best Management Practices for Oil and Gas Well Site Construction is a 22-page booklet produced by the ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources for the oil and gas industry and related contractors. The booklet provides specific recommendations for planning site construction, drainage management and re-vegetation of disturbed areas to minimize soil erosion.
  • Regulatory Enforcement: Inspecting Restoration Approval. This web page appears on the ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources website and describes the basic responsibilities of a well owner regarding well site restoration after a well has been drilled or plugged.
  • Ohio EPA’s Shale Oil and Gas Well Site Checklist was developed for drilling companies to help them identify potential regulatory compliance/permitting issues associated with locating a drilling pad, including disturbance of wetlands or streams, sources, and management of water and fluids for hydraulic fracturing, management of drill cuttings, and air emissions. This checklist may also be helpful to citizens and community leaders who wish to understand potential environmental regulatory issues associated with well-site construction and operation.

Water withdrawals

Freshwater is a critical resource for drilling operations and particularly for the hydraulic fracturing process. Water is used for dust control, cleaning equipment, for making drilling fluids and cement casings, but the greatest need for water is during the hydraulic fracturing process, which typically utilizes between 2 and 6 million gallons of water per well. The use of fresh water for hydraulic fracturing is considered a consumptive use, meaning that the water used during the process either remains in the shale formation or must be disposed of in a deep injection well to remove it from the water cycle due to contamination issues. The following resources describe how water is used for drilling in the Utica and Marcellus shale formations, water management considerations, and the associated rules and regulations for water withdrawals.

  • Sources of Water for Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids is a factsheet published jointly by the Ohio EPA, Ohio Department of Health, and Ohio Department of Natural Resources and provides an overview of Ohio’s regulations governing the withdrawal and use of water for hydraulic fracturing. Topics covered include sources of water, water rights, diversions of water across the Lake Erie-Ohio River watershed divide, water withdrawal regulations, and consumptive use of water. Also included is a helpful table summarizing key requirements and identifying the regulatory authority based on the water source.
  • Water Withdrawal Regulations for Oil and Gas Drilling is a factsheet published by the ODNR Division of Soil and Water Resources. This factsheet provides general information regarding water rights, water withdrawal regulations, diversions across the Lake Erie-Ohio River watershed divide, and consumptive use of water.
  • Considerations for Public Water Systems Prior to Providing Raw or Treated Water to Oil and Natural Gas Companies is a factsheet published by the Ohio EPA and covers topics such as evaluating the system’s capacity for providing water, registration and permit issues, engineering considerations, and implications for emergency preparedness and security of the water supply.

Drinking and groundwater

Groundwater is an important source of water for human consumption and other uses. When a will is drilled for oil and gas extraction, often times the well borehole will pass through groundwater exposing that water source to potential contaminants from naturally occurring sources above and below the water table and from fluids and other materials used during the drilling and hydraulic fracturing process. Ohio has adopted regulations requiring drilling companies to use multiple methods to reduce the risks of contaminating groundwater resources during and after the drilling and fracturing processes. The following resources explain groundwater, potential sources of contamination, rules, and regulations to protect groundwater during and after drilling and hydraulic fracturing, and information for private water well owners regarding well water testing.

  • How Well Do You Know Your Water Well? Is a 36-page guidebook for private water well owners developed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio EPA, Ohio Department of Health, and Trumbull County. Although it was developed specifically for well owners in NE Ohio, this is a very comprehensive and well-illustrated publication that covers the basics of groundwater, use, and recharge of water wells, permitting and testing for water quality, potential contamination issues, and information about well maintenance and disinfection.
  • Ground Water in Ohio is a publication of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and provides a general introduction to groundwater, its importance in Ohio, and potential sources of contamination. This factsheet doesn’t specifically address groundwater contamination risks associated with oil and gas wells, but it is a helpful resource for understanding the basics of groundwater for those who are less familiar with the topic.
  • Environmental Safety at the Well Site is a publication of the ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources. This one-page general overview of environmental safety issues related to drilling sites includes a brief explanation of groundwater protection measures required by the state of Ohio, including well casing requirements.

Waste storage and transport

Drilling and hydraulic fracturing create waste products that must be stored on the well-pad site and either recycled or disposed of off-site. These wastes include drilling mud and cuttings created during the drilling process, which can contain naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM); flow back water created during and immediately after hydraulic fracturing, and produced water which flows to the surface over time along with the oil and natural gas. Flowback and produced water (often referred to as brine) typically contain low concentrations of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and water from the shale formation that has been fractured, which can contain many other components such as salts (hence, use of the term ‘brine’) that must be handled and disposed of properly. These resources describe how wastes are generated during the drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and production phases of a horizontal gas and oil well, the content of these wastes, potential hazards, and regulations related to the management of these wastes. Note that in Ohio brine generated from drilling and horizontal fracturing must be disposed of in deep injection wells, which are addressed in a separate section, below.

  • The Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle is a page on the USEPA website that includes a diagram and brief description of water use and waste production associated with hydraulic fracturing. Potential impacts on drinking water resources during each step in the hydraulic fracturing process are also mentioned.
  • Drill Cuttings from Oil and Gas Exploration in the Marcellus and Utica Shale Regions of Ohio is a two-page factsheet jointly published by the Ohio Departments of Health and Natural Resources and the Ohio EPA. This factsheet provides a basic description of drilling muds and cuttings, how they are regulated, and associated environmental risks, including naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM).
  • Impact of HB59 on Solid Waste Landfills and Transfer Facilities is a guidance document published by the Ohio EPA and provides information about changes in Ohio law affecting the management of technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials (TENORM) resulting from unconventional oil and gas wells. This document includes definitions of NORM and TENORM, a description of new requirements applied to solid waste landfills and transfer facilities, and the role of the Ohio Department of Health in overseeing the disposal of TENORM.

Air quality

Pollutants are released into the air during drilling, stimulation, and production of gas and oil wells. Exhaust from diesel engines, along with dust from vehicle traffic and earth moving equipment can cause localized air quality issues. Pollutants can also be released from gas transmission lines and processing facilities. The following resources identify the potential sources of pollutants, types of pollutants, potential hazards, and regulations intended to reduce the hazards associated with the oil and gas industry.

  • Basic Information: Emissions from the Oil and Natural Gas Industry is a webpage on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s website. This page gives an overview of sources of emissions, types of pollutants emitted (e.g., volatile organic compounds, ozone, methane, and benzene), and includes a diagram of the natural gas production system from the well to the consumer.
  • Oil and Natural Gas Air Pollution Standards is a webpage on the US Environmental Protection Agency website and provides a brief introduction to rules recently adopted to reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds, methane, and other air toxins from oil and natural gas production. This page also includes links to proposed and final rules and other rulemaking documents.


Pipelines are a vital part of the infrastructure associated with shale gas development. Pipelines are required to transport natural gas from the wellhead to processing plants both in-state and across the country. New pipelines are being constructed across the state, requiring the clearing and maintenance of right-of-ways, resulting in short-term land disturbance and potential long-term impacts on natural habitats, in particular, forest ecosystems. The following resources identify environmental impacts associated with pipeline construction and right-of-ways and recommendations for reducing and mitigating these impacts.

  • Reseeding Pipeline Right-of-Way Pasture and Hay Areas is a paper published by OSU Extension Educator Clif Little and OSU Extension Forage Specialist Mark Sulc to provide landowners with guidance to work with pipeline construction companies to ensure pasture and hayfields are properly reseeded.

Orphan wells

Drilling for oil and gas in Ohio began in the 1800s, long before the current horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies were in place. Many of these wells were not properly plugged, creating a risk to public health and safety. The following resources explain the environmental risks associated with improperly abandoned oil and natural gas wells and offer guidance on proper plugging of these wells.

  • The Ohio Department of Natural Resources provides information on the Orphan Well Program, which seeks to identify and plug improperly abandoned oil and natural gas wells.