Federal EPA Releases Plan to Study Hydraulic Fracturing–Study’s Conclusions Won’t be Ready until 2014

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking another run at regulating natural gas drilling in the United States by the back door with its claim that hydraulic fracturing “may” endanger water supplies. To know for sure whether or not hydraulic fracturing is “safe”—even though by its own admission more than 35,000 wells are now hydraulically fractured each year in the U.S.—the EPA will conduct the mother of all studies. The first step in the process is to create a plan for how the study will be conducted. We now have that plan.

EPA studyThe plan, drafted by EPA staffers, now goes to an advisory committee, the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB), for a review. The SAB is made up of scientific experts, mostly academics, who will review the proposed methodology of the study and offer feedback on how to revise the study. Once that’s done, in early March, the official study will be launched.

And how long will it take? We will get a preliminary report from the EPA “by the end of 2012.” But the ultimate conclusion of the study, and the final findings, will not be ready until 2014.

The draft study plan contains a great deal of information. MDN has reviewed the draft (you can download it below). In the coming days and weeks MDN will highlight portions of the study plan that will be of interest to landowners and others with a stake in drilling.

Here is the official press release from the EPA announcing the draft plan and the proposed timing for conducting the study:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today submitted its draft study plan on hydraulic fracturing for review to the agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), a group of independent scientists. Natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future and the process known as hydraulic fracturing is one way of accessing that vital resource. EPA scientists, under this administration and at the direction of Congress, are undertaking a study of this practice to better understand any potential impacts it may have, including on groundwater. EPA announced its intention to conduct the study in March 2010 and use the best available science, independent sources of information, a transparent, peer-reviewed process and with consultation from others. Since then, EPA has held a series of public meetings across the country with thousands attending and the agency has developed a sound draft plan for moving forward with the study.

The scope of the proposed research includes the full lifespan of water in hydraulic fracturing, from acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced or used water and its ultimate treatment and disposal.

The SAB plans to review the draft plan March 7-8, 2011. Consistent with the operating procedures of the SAB, stakeholders and the public will have an opportunity to provide comments to the SAB during their review. The agency will revise the study plan in response to the SAB’s comments and promptly begin the study. Initial research results and study findings are expected to be made public by the end of 2012, with the goal of an additional report following further research in 2014.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressures to extract oil and natural gas from underground rock formations. The process creates fractures in formations such as shale rock, allowing natural gas or oil to escape into the well and be recovered. Over the past few years, the use of hydraulic fracturing for gas extraction has increased and has expanded over a wider diversity of geographic regions and geologic formations.*

pdf Download EPA Draft Study of Hydraulic Fracturing – Feb 2011 (PDF file, 2.37 MB)

*Environmental Protection Agency (Feb 8, 2011) – EPA Submits Draft Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan to Independent Scientists for Review / The draft plan is open to public comment