EPA Releases Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan

Published November 20, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released its final plan to study the effect of natural gas production through hydraulic fracturing techniques on drinking-water resources. The study will follow the water used in the hydraulic fracturing process throughout its usage cycle from acquisition to treatment and disposal. 

Most notably, the study will include prospective and retrospective case studies designed to assess the actual impacts from existing well operations.  

Study Sites Identified

Seven study sites were selected with citizen input, representing diverse regions and geologies. The prospective studies will be conducted in Washington County, Pennsylvania and Parish, Louisiana. The retrospective studies will be done in Dunn County, North Dakota; Wise and Denton Counties, Texas; Washington County, Pennsylvania; Bradford and Susquehanna Counties, Pennsylvania; and Las Animas County, Colorado.

In addition to the case studies, the report will include lab studies, toxicity assessments, scenario evaluation modeling, and a review of existing data gathered through academic peer review, state and federal agencies, and requests for information from industry.

Because of the high stakes associated with the study’s results, EPA has spent significant resources developing the study’s parameters. EPA began preparing for this study in March 2010 following a request from Congress. During the past year and half, EPA has met with more than 3,500 stakeholders at public meetings and accepted more than 5,000 written comments.

Federal Oversight Questioned

Despite this stakeholder engagement, Arkansas State Rep. Andrea Lea (R-Russellville), whose district sits atop the Fayetteville Shale, is not sure the EPA should be in charge of hydraulic fracturing regulation.

“The federal government’s role should be as an information source, such as the U.S. Geological Survey, properly equipping state legislatures to make the decisions for their residents,” said Lea. “Too many regulations stemming from EPA actions are one-size-fits-all and do not take into account the culture and the needs of Arkansas and her landowners.”

Katrina Currie, a policy analyst at the Pennsylvania-based Commonwealth Foundation, agreed, saying a federal takeover of hydraulic fracturing oversight by the EPA would only reduce Pennsylvania’s environmental protection. 

“It is the local agents who daily have feet on the ground monitoring drilling and who understand the fracking process, needed precautions, and the area’s history who are best equipped to handle local situations,” said Currie. 

Industry groups have resisted EPA’s movement to regulate hydraulic fracturing at the federal level. Dan Whitten, vice president for strategic communication at America’s Natural Gas Alliance, says natural gas development is best regulated at the state level.

“ANGA continues to believe that state regulatory professionals are best qualified to assess the unique geological characteristics of the shale plays in their region and the appropriate water disposal requirements that arise from those conditions,” said Whitten in a press statement. “As EPA officials move forward we encourage them to partner with the states and take into serious consideration state regulators’ existing on-the-ground expertise and ongoing oversight activities.”

EPA expects to make preliminary findings in 2012 with a final report expected in 2014. 

John Monaghan ([email protected]) is the legislative specialist for energy and environment issues at the Heartland Institute.

Internet Info:

Hydraulic Fracturing, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/index.cfm