EPA Announces Locations for Case Studies in Multi-Year Hydraulic Fracturing Study – PA Marcellus Shale Figures Prominently

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conduction a multi-year study of the natural gas extraction method called hydraulic fracturing. See MDN’s coverage of the initial announcement and draft release of the study plan here. Preliminary results of the study are due in 2012, but the final results are not due until 2014.

Yesterday, the EPA announced where it will conduct its case studies. Nearly half of the sites—three of the seven—are in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale region in Bradford, Susquehanna and Washington Counties. Below is the full press release from the EPA announcing the locations, followed by a table from the EPA website charting the key issues to be investigated and the potential outcomes for the retrospective case studies.

EPA Press Release

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today, in keeping with the Administration’s focus on ensuring that domestic resources are leveraged safely and responsibly, announced the next steps in its congressionally mandated hydraulic fracturing study. EPA has identified seven case studies to help inform the assessment of potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. The sites identified were selected following extensive input from stakeholders, including the public, local and state officials, industry, and environmental organizations. To ensure the agency maintains the current timeline for the study, the EPA will begin field work in some of the selected regions this summer.

Natural gas plays a key role in the nation’s energy future. EPA is working closely with other federal partners to ensure that this important resource can be developed safely.

“This is an important part of a process that will use the best science to help us better understand the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water,” said Paul Anastas, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “We’ve met with community members, state experts and industry and environmental leaders to choose these case studies. This is about using the best possible science to do what the American people expect the EPA to do—ensure that the health of their communities and families are protected.”

The studies, which will take place in regions across the country, will be broken into two study groups. Two of the seven sites were selected as prospective case studies where EPA will monitor key aspects of the hydraulic fracturing process throughout the lifecycle of a well.

These areas are located in:
Haynesville Shale – DeSoto Parish, La.
Marcellus Shale – Washington County, Pa.

Five retrospective case studies were selected and will examine areas where hydraulic fracturing has occurred for any impact on drinking water resources. These are located in:

Bakken Shale – Kildeer, and Dunn Counties, N.D.
Barnett Shale – Wise and Denton Counties, Texas
Marcellus Shale – Bradford and Susquehanna Counties, Pa.
Marcellus Shale – Washington County, Pa.
Raton Basin – Las Animas County, Colo.

The information gathered from these case studies will be part of an approach which includes literature review, collection of data and information from states, industry and communities, laboratory work and computer modeling. The combination of these materials will allow us to do a more comprehensive assessment of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. The study will continue to use the best available science, independent sources of information, and will be conducted using a transparent, peer-reviewed process, to better understand any impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing.

EPA invited stakeholders from across the country to participate in the identification of potential case studies through informational public meetings and the submission of electronic or written comments. Following thousands of comments, over 40 case studies were nominated for inclusion in the study. The case studies were identified, prioritized and selected based on a rigorous set of criteria. These criteria included proximity of population and drinking water supplies to activities, concerns about impaired water quality (retrospective only) and health and environmental impacts (retrospective only), and knowledge gaps that could be filled by the case study. Sites were prioritized based on geographic and geologic diversity, population at risk, site status (planned, active or completed), unique geological or hydrology features, characteristics of water resources, and land use.

Source: EPA Press Release (Jun 23, 2011) – EPA Identifies Case Studies for Hydraulic Fracturing Study / Agency to conduct field work in various regions of the country starting this summer


EPA has selected seven case studies located in various formations locations across the country that the Agency believes will provide the most useful information about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources under a variety of circumstances. Two prospective case studies, where EPA will monitor key aspects of the hydraulic fracturing process at future hydraulic fracturing sites, are located in:

  • Haynesville Shale – DeSoto Parish, LA
  • Marcellus Shale – Washington County, PA

Five retrospective case studies, which will investigate reported drinking water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing operations at existing sites, are located in:

Location Key Issues to be Investigated Potential Outcomes
Bakken Shale—Killdeer and Dunn Counties, ND
  • Production well failure during hydraulic fracturing
  • Suspected drinking water aquifer contamination
  • Identify sources of well failure
  • Determine if drinking water resources are contaminated and to what extent
Barnett Shale—Wise and Denton Counties, TX
  • Possible drinking water well contamination
  • Spills and runoff leading to suspected drinking water well contamination
  • Determine if private water wells are contaminated
  • Obtain information about the likelihood of transport of contaminants via spills, leaks, and runoff
Marcellus Shale—Bradford and Susquehanna Counties, PA
  • Ground water and drinking water well contamination
  • Suspected surface water contamination from a spill of fracturing fluids
  • Methane contamination of multiple drinking water wells
  • Determine if drinking water wells are contaminated
  • Determine source of methane in private wells
  • Transferable results due to common types of impacts
Marcellus Shale—Washington County, PA
  • Changes in drinking water quality, suspected contamination
  • Stray gas in wells, surface spills
  • Determine if drinking water wells are contaminated
  • Determine if surface spills affect surface and ground water
  • If contamination exists, determine potential source of contaminants in drinking water
Raton Basin—Los Animas County, CO
  • Potential drinking water well contamination (methane and other contaminants) in an area with intense concentration of gas wells in shallow surficial aquifer (coalbed methane)
  • Determine source of methane
  • Identify presence/source of contamination in drinking water wells

Criteria for Case Study Location Selection

The sites were identified, prioritized and selected based on a rigorous set of criteria and represent a wide range of conditions and impacts that may result from hydraulic fracturing activities. These criteria included proximity of population and drinking water supplies, evidence of impaired water quality (retrospective only), health and environmental concerns (retrospective only), and knowledge gaps that could be filled by the case study. Sites were prioritized based on geographic and geologic diversity, population at risk, site status (planned, active or completed), unique geological or hydrological features, characteristics of water resources, and land use.

Source: EPA Website (accessed Jun 24, 2011) – Case Study Locations for Hydraulic Fracturing Study