EPA releases update on study of hydraulic fracturing

As the use of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) technologies has increased in the United States, so have concerns about its impacts on human health and the environment. In response, the US Congress has requested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct a comprehensive study designed to provide both policymakers and the general public with reliable scientific information about the potential risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. At the close of 2012, the EPA published an update (pdf) on the ongoing study of the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. The update highlights research progress as of September 2012.

The EPA has organized the Study of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources around the five stages of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. For each stage of the water cycle, potential drinking water issues are identified, and a fundamental research question is posed. Each of the following water stages and corresponding research questions are addressed in the 18 research projects currently underway.

  • Water acquisition:
  • What are the possible impacts of large volume water withdrawals from ground and surface waters on drinking water resources?

  • Chemical mixing:
  • What are the possible impacts on drinking water resources of hydraulic fracturing fluid surface spills on or near well pads?

  • Well injection:
  • What are possible impacts of the injection and fracturing process on drinking water resources?

  • Flowback and produced water:
  • What are the possible impacts on drinking water resources of flowback and produced water (collectively referred to as “hydraulic fracturing wastewater”) surface spills on or near well pads?

  • Wastewater treatment and waste disposal:
  • What are the possible impacts of inadequate treatment of hydraulic fracturing wastewater on drinking water resources?

The EPA anticipates the results of the study to be available for public and peer review by 2014. In addition to completing the 18 research projects, the EPA will also continue to collect information from stakeholders and technical experts via roundtables, workshops, information requests, study updates, and periodic briefings with the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. The EPA’s stated purpose is to provide clear and definitive answers to the fundamental research questions as well as:

“Identify potential impacts to drinking water resources, if any, from water withdrawals, the fate and transport of chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing, and wastewater treatment and waste disposal. Information on the toxicity of hydraulic fracturing-related chemicals is also being gathered. Although these data may be used to assess the potential risks to drinking water resources from hydraulic fracturing activities, the report of results is not intended to quantify risks.”

To learn more about the study visit www.epa.gov/hfstudy/.

Carissa Ries

water well expert

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