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EPA Launches Hydraulic Fracturing Study

drillingrigThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched a $1.9-million research study into the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing — used in the extraction of natural gas — on water quality and public health.

According to the EPA, the hydraulic fracturing process involves taking water from the ground, pumping fracturing fluids and sands into the wells under pressure, then separating and managing the leftover water after withdrawing the gas.

Although the process has been used by the petroleum industry for many years, it’s only been recently that more concerns about water contamination have been raised by the government, environmentalists and the public as the demand for natural gas has risen, driving more drillers into the Marcellus Shale formation, reports the New York Times.

These concerns have already driven Chesapeake Energy to back away from drilling for natural gas within the New York City watershed, a small area within the Marcellus Shale natural gas reserve.

Chesapeake Energy and XTO Energy say the supplies in the shale regions including Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and New York could increase the available domestic reserves of natural gas, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal and oil, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In June 2009, two companion Senate and House bills, called the FRAC ACT — Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, amending the Safe Drinking Water Act (H.R. 2776 and S. 1215) — were introduced to repeal the oil and gas industry’s exemption from the U.S.’s safe drinking water law. The legislation would require them to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes.

The New York Times reports that the House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats will continue their probe into chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

Although oil and gas companies such as ExxonMobil and XTO Energy have said as recently as January that they don’t object to revealing what chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing, they do object to the EPA being in charge of regulating the process, echoing the industry’s concern that the EPA will either ban the practice or make it too expensive to drill.

The EPA is proposing a four-part process to study the technique, which includes defining research questions and identifying data gaps, conducting a process for stakeholder input and research prioritization, developing a detailed peer-reviewed study design based on input from stakeholders, and then implementing the research studies.

Currently, the EPA is seeking advice from the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) on the proposal.

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4 thoughts on “EPA Launches Hydraulic Fracturing Study

  1. I am sure none of you that are opposed to energy industries actually use any. Instead of investing your time and money opposing these efforts maybe you could come up with some economical alternatives.

  2. This piece sheds light on the critical need to protect our threatened water supply, and the EPA study is step in the right direction. The issues related to hydraulic fracturing are complex and have the potential to impact both water quality and quantity.

    However, by applying existing technologies, we can actually reduce overall freshwater consumption, and effectively treat and reuse the water. Huge amounts of water are used in virtually every form of industrial processing – manufacturing, mining, oil and gas drilling and the production of electricity. In the U. S., nearly 45 percent of our invaluable freshwater resources are used for industrial purposes.

    While it is unlikely that, as a country, we will significantly reduce the need for these industrial applications, it is VERY feasible to adopt practices that will enable our country to access our natural energy reserves while simultaneously protecting the environment and public health.

    Heiner Markhoff, President & CEO
    GE Power and Water, Water and Process Technologies

  3. In a 2004 study, the EPA were the first ones to say (without examining the chemicals involved in the process) that fracking was a safe process and did NOT pose any threat to drinking water. This is what helped the Congress exempt hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. And now, if the EPA were to re-evaluate the safety of the process, whould anyone buy it? Would it be a thorough study, unlike last time?

  4. I am thoroughly discusted that Cheney was able to exempt the oil and gas industry from the EPA’s safe drinking water law in 2005. As a New Yorker, I feel spending 1.9 million on a study of the chemicals used in Fracing is an outrageous waste of money, considering there have already been hearings, and the oil and gas co’s disclosed pages upon pages of carcinogenic chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing! What’s to study? The answer should be NO HYDRAULIC FRACTURING! Put that money into the hands of researcher’s studying means of Alternative Energy. Pass the FRAC ACT, giving the power back to the EPA, and arrest Cheney!

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