EPA Proposes Broad Fracking Study

It looks like an investigation of hydraulic fracturing set to be launched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will take on a broad scope. According to a report from ProPublica, the agency is proposing that it take a look at every aspect of the natural gas drilling technique. If the EPA’s draft study proposal is accepted, it would be the most comprehensive investigation of fracking’s impact on drinking water ever undertaken.

The EPA study was mandated by Congress last March, amid concerns that fracking could impact the quality of drinking water. While it remains unclear whether the actual fracturing process has contaminated drinking water, there have been more than 1,000 reports around the country of contamination related to drilling, ProPublica said. Fracking, which involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals into shale deposits under high pressure to release natural gas, is generally exempt from regulation under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Environmentalists are hoping the study will lead to regulation of fracking on the federal level.

Under the draft proposal, the EPA study would look at injection of fracking fluids, water withdrawals, the mixing of the chemicals, and wastewater management and disposal. The agency’s scientific advisory board will review the draft plan on March 7-8 and will allow for public comments then, ProPublica said.

The EPA proposes using two or three “prospective” case studies to follow the course of drilling and fracking wells from beginning to end. It would also look at three to five places where drilling has reportedly contaminated water. Sites under consideration are located in Texas, Colorado and North Dakota.

According to ProPublica, the natural gas drilling agency seems less than enthusiastic about the proposed scope of the EPA fracking study. “Our guys are and will continue to be supportive of a study approach that’s based on the science, true to its original intent and scope,” said a statement from the industry group Energy in Depth. “But at first blush, this document doesn’t appear to definitively say whether it’s an approach EPA will ultimately take.”

A spokesperson for the group told ProPublica it understands the need to address any stage of fracking that might affect drinking water, but he’s skeptical that water withdrawals meet the criteria.

The EPA proposal estimates that fracking uses 70 to 140 billion gallons of water annually.

According to ProPublica, the EPA preliminary fracking report should be ready by the end of next year, with a full report expected in 2014.

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