The Impact of Fracking on Freight Distribution Patterns

Quarterly Reports Other Documents Final Report
Final Report

Primary Investigators

Mark Abkowitz
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Vanderbilt University


The increasing production of domestic energy through the use of fracking will likely alter local/regional/national economies and corresponding freight distribution patterns (highway, rail, marine, pipeline) in the U.S.  The proposed project will assess the impact of fracking on freight transportation demand and corresponding distribution patterns, for the purpose of identifying where the system is or will become overly stressed (in addition to identifying where excess capacity has been created due to shifts in freight transportation patterns).  This will be achieved by deploying a methodology in which multiple future scenarios are defined in terms of fracking activity and energy consumption, each scenario is analyzed according to the resulting freight distribution across modal networks using a routing tool developed under a prior CFIRE initiative, and the results evaluated according to specific performance measures.  The proposed project will be led by Vanderbilt University, in collaboration with the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Alabama at Huntsville.


The objective of this research is to study the impact of the increased use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in domestic energy production on freight transportation (highway, rail, marine, pipeline) distribution patterns.  The project will focus on identifying portions of these networks at the local/regional/national level that will become overly stressed due to the magnitude and location of fracking activity. The ultimate goal of this effort is to provide guidance and insight for freight transportation planners and policymakers in determining where to concentrate their attention to mitigate safety and economic risks associated with vulnerable freight transportation locations induced by changes in energy production and consumption.


Task 1 – Conduct a literature review of U.S. energy supply and demand, current and anticipated domestic fracking activities, and existing freight distribution patterns across various modes.

Task 2 – Define future scenarios describing the magnitude and spatial distribution of fracking activities, and identify performance measures for assessing the freight transportation impacts of each scenario.

Task 3 – Refine the CFIRE routing tool, as needed, to enable representation and analysis of the selected scenarios.

Task 4 – Perform scenario analyses and evaluate results.

Task 5 – Prepare and disseminate study findings and recommendations

Project Information

  • Duration: 18 months
  • Dates: 08/01/2014 – 01/31/2016
  • Budget: $150,000 (UTC funds) and $150,000 (match funds)
  • Student Involvement: One graduate student
  • Modal Orientation: Highway/Rail/Maritime/Pipeline
  • Project ID: CFIRE 09-15
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