• <div class="header-image" style="background-image: url(/live/image/gid/4/3256_shutterstock_1302963724.rev.1575383343.jpg);" data-share-image="/live/image/gid/4/3256_shutterstock_1302963724.jpg"/><div class="header-background-color"/>

The Fracking Debate with Researcher and Author Daniel Raimi

April 04, 2018
On April 3rd, the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, the Penn Program on Regulation, and the Wharton Public Policy Initiative hosted a lunchtime conversation with author Daniel Raimi, a senior research associate at Resources for the Future, who discussed his new book, “The Fracking Debate: The Risks, Benefits, and Uncertainties of the Shale Revolution”. Cary Coglianese, law professor and director of the Penn Program on Regulation, moderated the discussion.

Raimi’s book explores the rapid surge in oil and gas production in the United States over the last decade—thanks largely to technological advances such as high-volume hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as “fracking.” This rapid increase has generated widespread debate, with proponents touting economic and energy-security benefits and opponents highlighting the environmental and social risks of increased oil and gas production.

The Fracking Debate directly addresses the most common questions and concerns associated with fracking: What is fracking? Does fracking pollute the water supply? Will fracking make the United States energy independent? Does fracking cause earthquakes? How is fracking regulated? Is fracking good for the economy? Simultaneously, the book explores the stories of the people and communities affected by the shale revolution, for better and for worse.

Raimi began the conversation by reflecting on the time he spent from 2012 to 2015 visiting every major shale formation in the United States in order to research the impact of new oil production on local governments. After visiting these county courthouses and city halls to discuss the issue with officials, Raimi would visit local restaurants and bars to talk to local citizens in order to better understand the oil industry’s impact on the community. This experience helped shape his book and revealed the need to answer questions about fracking that are evidence based and even handed.

Daniel Raimi discusses image of oil well from his visits to Shale drilling sites throughout the ...

So what is fracking? Raimi explained that the term was short for hydraulic fracturing, a type of well stimulation that occurs after drilling. In shale formations one mile or more into the ground, water, sand and a mixture of chemicals are pumped into the well to create fractures in the rock. The sand helps wedge the fractures open, from which oil and gas flow to the surface. Raimi noted that people have been stimulating wells for years, and while the technology has changed from dynamite to high pressure water, the concept of stimulation isn’t entirely new. What has changed is it is now being applied at a larger scale than ever before: millions of gallons of water are being injected and applied to tight sources, sources of oil that companies had not been able to economically reach until now.

Raimi continued, noting that debates around fracking are contentious and while pundits don’t agree on much, everyone can agree that shale gas production has profoundly affected the oil and gas industry in the United States. “The increase in oil surprised pretty much everyone,” Raimi said, adding that the US now produces more than 10 million barrels a day – a level unseen since the 1970s.

A map of the country with hydraulically fractured wells showed the wide span of areas impacted by this new kind of drilling. The large plates of shale rock covering the US are the home to fracking, and Raimi has visited towns in each place. He recalled his experience in Pennsylvania at the Marcellus Shale, remembering his own mental image about what shale development is supposed to look like. “I pictured Texans and Oklahomans getting into fights and making trouble, and massive trucks on the road,” he said. Surprisingly, however, his mental image of industrial activity occurring in Pennsylvania did not match the actual setting. Fewer trucks were on the road than expected, the oil wells weren’t as prominent in the landscape, and the rural area’s rolling hills and old barns were pristine and untouched.

Raimi specifically spoke about his experience at Dimock Township, and the neighbors living along Carter Road. Each house on the small dirt road had signs encouraging the ban of fracking because they had been impacted by contaminated water sources resulting from natural gas leakage. The city had determined that over a dozen wells supplying water to the homes on this road were impacted by stray methane gas. Raimi warned the audience of the dangers of methane accumulation: if enough of the gas accumulates, it can spontaneously combust – and it did, destroying the shed of a homeowner on the road.

But how common is methane migration? As of a couple of months ago, there have been just over 300 cases of oil and gas contamination in Pennsylvania resulting from both fracking wells and other sources. In 2010, 1,600 new wells were drilled in PA and 12 cases of stray gas contamination occurred – under 1% of wells were affected. In 2015, 800 new wells were drilled in PA and 0 cases of stray gas contamination occurred – even less than in previous years. Raimi pointed out the rarity of these gas leaks, noting that “the basic trend persists in other parts of the country.” Even though a small percentage of oil and gas wells cause problems, this small percentage across the many thousands of wells drilled affects a significant number of people.

For the most part, the people in Dimock Township were actually pro-fracking, Raimi said, but after the contamination, the city put a 9-mile moratorium around the area. While the homeowners affected were relieved, other citizens were upset since they never earned the economic benefits of leasing their land.

Another area Raimi visited was the Permian Basin in West Texas. This is the leading oil producing region in the United States and the area underwent an enormous resurgence in the last decade. Raimi showed images of the oil and gas wells so ubiquitous in the city’s landscape – some older and rusted, and others more modern and new. In fact, it is common to see oil wells in people’s backyards, showing that citizens are comfortable with the piping of poisonous gas under their houses since they have been living with the industry since the 1920s. In addition to the numerous drilling sites, the area had many wind and solar resources to support the extraction.

Within this shale formation, the town of Balmorhea is a special place to Texan residents. It is home to one of the world’s largest spring fed pools surrounded by the picturesque Davis Mountains, the temperature is mild year-round, and the deep space observatory is the pride of the area. Even though this town sits atop a hotbed of oil and gas activity, no drilling had occurred in the area until 2016 when a drilling company acquired thousands of acres around the area.

In contrast to the general comfort level and popularity of oil drilling in the Permian Basin, residents and lovers of this small town were not happy about extraction. Raimi explained the views of Rick and Janice, friends he made on his travels who work in the oil and gas industry themselves. They generally support drilling, but see this town as particularly special and worthy of preservation and so want to protect it from the industry. “For them, any risk is too high,” Raimi explained.

He continued, saying that while most Republicans say “drill, baby, drill” and Democrats advocate keeping oil in the ground, the actual residents of areas where drilling occurs do not participate in the sloganeering nor have such black and white views.

Daniel Raimi talking about Barrow, Alaska

Lastly, Raimi spoke about his experience in Barrow, Alaska, a town 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle and one of northernmost cities in the country. The path to Barrow is by small plane or by boat, if the sea ice thaws, since no roads go to the area. Local Alaskans subsist on whale meat, which they store year round in their basements – natural freezers due to the heavy layer of permafrost in the area.

Unfortunately, rapidly rising sea levels in the Arctic Circle and the melting permafrost have threatened the way of life for these individuals – they are no longer able to preserve their food, and the whale population is affected by climate change, too. But even though these native Alaskans are worried about climate change, they remain pro-drilling.

Raimi said that though methane emissions are a powerful greenhouse gas, when you look at the breadth of research, methane emissions are not a large enough problem to cancel out the advantages of using natural gas over coal. On the flip side, cheap natural gas makes it more difficult for renewables to compete for investment dollars and consumer market share. As long as prices are low, more people will use natural gas energy, which increases emissions. Despite this increase in greenhouse gases, Raimi cited research saying that the levels of emissions we currently experience post Shale Revolution are comparable to those that would have existed had we not begun fracking.

He continued to explain that increased natural gas use can help replace the 30% of US energy usage that comes from coal. “This is a scalable…low cost policy option for policy makers. But whether or not policy makers will take advantage of this is unlikely in the current administration,” Raimi noted. There are further opportunities that the Shale Revolution has provided in terms of economic advantages for regions producing the shale oil and gas, as well as geopolitical and foreign policy advantages for America relative to the world.

Raimi concluded, emphasizing the need of good policies to better “hone the interventions, beef up the benefits, and reduce the downsides. We need to tamp down the rhetoric and really evaluate the research.”

To see a video recording and slide presentation of the talk visit  the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy event page.

About the Speakers

Daniel Raimi is a senior research associate at Resources for the Future, where he focuses on energy and climate policy. He also teaches energy policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, and is a faculty affiliate at the University of Michigan Energy Institute. The Fracking Debate, his first book, is published by Columbia University Press as part of the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy series.

Cary Coglianese is the Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, where he currently serves as the director of the Penn Program on Regulation. He specializes in the study of regulation and regulatory processes, with an emphasis on the empirical evaluation of alternative regulatory strategies and the role of public participation, negotiation, and business-government relations in policy making.


  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>