EPA to Figure Out What the Frack is Going On

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a final plan for its study of the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing, specifically on drinking water resources.

In fiscal year 2010, the EPA was commissioned by the U.S. Congress to conduct this study due to escalating public concerns.

The study will assess the potential impacts and identify the factors that affect the frequency and severity of impacts, said the EPA. It will focus on fracking in shale formations but will also include coalbed methane and tight sand reservoirs. Five fundamental questions to be determined by the study are:

  • What are the possible impacts of large volume water withdrawals from drinking resources?
  • What are the possible impacts of surface spills near well pads?
  • What are potential impacts of the injection and fracturing process?
  • What are the possible impacts of spills near well pads of flowback and produced water?
  • What are the possible impacts of inadequate treatment of fracking wastewaters?

Nominated by stakeholders nationwide, the EPA narrowed down the selection to seven cities to be included in the study: five retrospective studies and two prospective studies. The retrospective case study will focus on areas in which reported drinking water contaminations have occurred due to fracking while the EPA will monitor vital aspects of the process at prospective sites.

The five retrospective case studies are located in the Raton Basin for coalbed methane, and the Bakken, Barnett and Marcellus formations for shale.

Prospective case studies will be conducted in the Haynesville Shale in DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, and the Marcellus Shale in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

The prospective case studies will help to answer the following secondary research questions:

  • How might water withdrawals affect short- and long-term water availability in an area with hydraulic fracturing activity?
  • What are the possible impacts of water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing options on local water quality?
  • How effective are current well construction practices at containing gases and fluids before, during, and after fracturing?
  • What local geologic or man-made factors may contribute to subsurface migration of fluids or gases to drinking water resources?
  • What is the composition of hydraulic fracturing wastewaters, and what factors might influence this composition?
  • What are the common treatment and disposal methods for hydraulic fracturing wastewaters, and where are these methods practiced?
  • Are large volumes of water being disproportionately withdrawn from drinking water resources that serve communities with environmental justice concerns?
  • Are hydraulically fractured oil and gas wells disproportionately located near communities with environmental justice concerns?
  • Is wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations being disproportionately treated or disposed of (via POTWs or commercial treatment systems) in or near communities with environmental justice concerns?

The EPA will release preliminary results in 2012 and a final report in 2014.


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JJT | Nov. 6, 2011
The EPA should do what they are best at push, responsibility for any work down to the states as an unfunded mandate. Make the state DEPs and the River basin commissions do all the work then review the data with minimal validation and draw the same conclusions that will serve to reassert their political agenda.

pete | Nov. 5, 2011
I find it fascinating the EPA is studying all these "potential" issues that could occur. Isn't it telling that EPA has to do their study on hypotheticals instead of actual problems that resulted from or were caused by hydraulic fracturing? We have been fracturing oil & gas bearing rock formations for over fifty years, and we must have fractured tens of thousands of wells. So if hydraulic fracturing had such a great potential to cause problems, why hasn't it been born out with readily available evidence? The truth is that very few environmental, health and safety issues have ever resulted from fracturing wells. But Congress is too worried about the environmental activists and their own continued seats in Washington, so they commission EPA to waste years of time and untold amounts of money on this non issue. We need Congress to work on an effective energy policy for the USA, and we need EPA to just go away, and maybe find real problems to solve. Better yet, maybe Congress and EPA should both be fired and we re-elect new Congressmen and let the EPA workers get jobs...maybe as roughnecks, or humping iron doing frac jobs. Naw, never mind that last thought, the most they can lift is a five pound study, or a citation book to write infractions to good hard working people. Pete

David Kimes | Nov. 4, 2011
Why does it take so long to state the obvious?

john | Nov. 4, 2011
When the EPA gets involved everything slows down. They want additional funding, so they can hire more numb nuts to get in the way. They are useless. Put them in the same category as the DOE. Bring something noteworthy to the table or get out of the way.

Barry Evans | Nov. 4, 2011
During its investigation, will the EPA involve industry experts in the investigation so that they have representation from those who can adequately explain what actually happens during a fracturing operation? (This includes the extensive pre-job preparations for containment, well integrity, and safety that happen on every location prior to a fracturing operation).

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