Fractured Feelings over Fed Fracking Review

Monday, November 7, 2011 @ 05:11 PM gHale


One of the main sticking points for the future growth of this country is developing additional energy sources and fracking is now falling right in the middle of that issue. Yes, the country needs energy produced from fracking, but at what expense?

Now the government is getting involved as the Environmental Protection Agency released the outlines of its long-awaited probe into whether hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is contaminating drinking-water supplies.

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Investigators will try to determine the impact of large-scale water withdrawals, aboveground spills of drilling fluids, and the fracturing process itself on water quality and quantity in states where companies drilled tens of thousands of wells over the past few years.

Fracking involves the high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water, along with sand and chemical additives, deep underground to extract natural gas trapped in shale rock. Energy companies expanded their use of fracking as they tap previously unreachable shale deposits, including the lucrative Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.

The industry says fracking is safe, but environmentalists and some residents who live near drilling sites say no way because it has poisoned groundwater. The EPA study, mandated by Congress last year, is the agency’s first look at the impact of fracking in shale deposits.

EPA will examine drilling sites in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota and Texas. The earliest results will be available next year.

Industry groups remain confident the study will vindicate their position.

“The industry has taken the lead in working with state regulators to constantly improve operations, industry practices and guidelines as well as improve communications with local communities,” said Stephanie Meadows, a senior policy adviser at the American Petroleum Institute.

The institute and five other industry groups recently complained to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that agency staff began collecting field data and water samples months before the study plan was finished. The industry groups, in an Oct. 20 letter to Jackson, also questioned the study design itself and said it could undermine the credibility of the findings.

The EPA said it began work over the summer so it could finish the study by 2014.

The federal agency has studied fracking before, in 2004, looking at its use in coalbed methane deposits. It concluded then the technology is safe, but experts criticized the methodology, saying there were flaws.

The new EPA study will look at the entire water lifecycle of hydraulic fracturing in shale deposits, beginning with the industry’s withdrawal of huge volumes of water from rivers and streams and ending with the treatment and disposal of the tainted wastewater that comes back out of the wells after fracking. Researchers will also study well design and the impact of surface spills of fracking fluids on groundwater.



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