The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its “Study of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources: Progress Report” in late December. The progress report depicts a complex study that is making slow progress.
EPA also reports that the study has added additional public participation through:
The study encompasses the full lifecycle of water used in hydraulic fracturing: water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, flowback and produced water, and wastewater treatment and disposal.
Congress asked the EPA for this study in 2010, and the final report is not due until 2014.
Congress asked the EPA for this study in 2010, and the final report is not due until 2014. This interim report is lengthy – over 250 pages – but lacks information about how far various study elements have progressed.
The report also lacks interim research results and provides no information about what will be in the final report.
The EPA press release states, "While this progress report outlines the framework for the final study, it does not draw conclusions about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, which will be made in the final study."
The progress report suggests that most of the study elements have started but may be far from complete. In addition, EPA has modified or eliminated a few planned studies.
♦ EPA currently is evaluating well construction and hydraulic fracturing procedures at 333 wells drilled by nine different operators in major shale gas basins. This effort will assess the effectiveness of current industry practices to contain liquids and gases during and after hydraulic fracturing.
♦ EPA is collecting and evaluating data on the chemical composition of hydraulic fracturing fluids using the FracFocus chemical disclosure registry and information that EPA requested on 25,000 fracturing treatments conducted by nine service companies.
The addition of FracFocus data to the study reflects the importance of industry-provided data. The FracFocus website, hosted by the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, currently holds data on about 35,000 wells.
♦ EPA is analyzing water samples and modeling hypothetical scenarios to evaluate the potential for hazardous chemicals occurring in public water supplies located downstream from facilities that treat hydraulic-fracturing wastewater.
♦ Also in progress is computer modeling of potential ways in which hydraulic fracturing chemicals or reservoir fluids could migrate from shale gas formations to aquifers.
♦ Other computer modeling will predict the impacts of water used for hydraulic fracturing on drinking water supplies in the upper Colorado River and Susquehanna River basins.
♦ EPA also is compiling data on the chemistry and toxicology of over 1,000 chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing.
♦ EPA is compiling information on the causes and volumes of spills of hydraulic fracturing and wastewater fluids using state and national databases of chemical spills.
♦ EPA has completed multiple rounds of retrospective water sampling at five case study locations in Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas. EPA collected multiple samples from 70 domestic water wells, 15 monitoring wells and 13 surface water sources near previously completed wells and expects to collect additional samples in the future.
The progress report does not provide any sampling results or water analyses.
EPA’s hydraulic fracturing study is controversial with both proponents and opponents of hydraulic fracturing – and perhaps in response to highly charged public opinions, EPA recently announced additional opportunities for stakeholder engagement.
EPA stated goals of this enhanced engagement process are to improve public understanding of the study; ensure that the EPA is up to date on advances in industry practices and technologies; and obtain timely and constructive feedback on ongoing research projects.
Stakeholders and technical experts are being engaged through the following activities:
EPA hosted five half-day roundtable meetings last November, addressing water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, flowback and produced waters, and wastewater treatment.
For each roundtable, EPA presented its work to experts nominated by the public and asked for input on specific topics to be included in future workshops. Summaries of the November meetings will be available at the EPA website.
Topics for future roundtables will be announced in 2013.
Technical workshops, which are expected to allow more detailed discussion than occurred in the roundtables, are planned in 2013. For each meeting experts will be solicited, and each workshop will be followed by a public webinar.
Planned technical workshops are:
The SAB panel on hydraulic fracturing, which will be responsible for reviewing the interim and final reports, should be diverse and balanced.
In late December over 140 experts were chosen as candidates for the panel. After a public comment period EPA will designate a smaller panel that will begin work in March with a review of the 2012 progress report.
Candidates represent the diversity of expertise and experience in hydraulic fracturing, including: academia, environment service companies, state regulatory agencies, federal government scientists, oil and natural gas exploration and production companies, and oilfield service companies.
Edie Allison is the Director of the AAPG Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington D.C.
Future Policy Watch columns will report on the progress of the EPA hydraulic fracturing study. In addition, GEO-DC blogs will alert AAPG members to opportunities to provide data or comment on study activities and interim reports.