EPA issues final research plan for studying impact of fracking on drinking water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released a final research plan for its ongoing and congressionally mandated study of the controversial but common oil and gas drilling procedure known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

A holding pond for fracking fluids in Texas.
“The final study plan looks at the full cycle of water in hydraulic fracturing, from the acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced or used water as well as its ultimate treatment and disposal,” EPA officials said in a press release. “Earlier this year, EPA announced its selection of locations for five retrospective and two prospective case studies.”

One of those retrospective study areas is in Colorado – a state where new fracking regulations are being drafted and an independent review recently recommended a more comprehensive look at water resources available for fracking.

The process, which can use up to 1 million gallons of water per frack job, also includes sand and frequently undisclosed chemical additives. Fracking fluids are injected under higher pressure deep into oil and gas wells to fracture tight sand and rock and free up more gas or oil. Critics of the process say it can lead to groundwater contamination.

The EPA’s “Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources (pdf)” is now available on the agency’s website. Initial EPA findings will be released to the public in 2012, although the final report won’t be ready until 2014.

U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., wrote the legislation to authorize the study and also is a co-sponsor, with Colorado Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, of the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act. His district in New York includes the heavily drilled Marcellus Shale.

“I applaud the EPA for releasing a final research plan for its study on hydraulic fracturing,” Hinchey said in a prepared statement. “I wrote the legislative language that initiated this study and, as I had intended, the final study will look at the full cycle of water used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

“Our country is in the middle of a shale gas rush, but unbiased, scientific research into hydraulic fracturing is almost non-existent. This EPA study will provide invaluable information to the public and policy makers interested in understanding the impact of hydraulic fracturing on our water resources.”

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