2004 EPA study determined inadequate
The 2004 EPA study concluded that the process of hydraulic fracturing did not pose a threat to drinking water. It's been widely criticized, in part because the agency didn't conduct any water tests in reaching that conclusion.
The 2004 EPA report was used by the Bush administration and Congress to justify legislation exempting hydraulic fracturing from oversight under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The exemption came to be known as the "Halliburton loophole" and has inhibited federal regulators ever since.
New EPA study launched in 2010
In March 2010, responding to reports of environmental contamination in gas drilling areas across the country, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will conduct a nationwide scientific study to determine if the problems are caused by the practice of injecting chemicals and water underground to fracture the gas-bearing rock.
"The use of hydraulic fracturing has significantly increased well beyond the scope of the 2004 study," EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones wrote. The old study, she said, did not address drilling in shale, which is common today. It also didn't take into account the relatively new practice of drilling and hydraulically fracturing horizontally for up to a mile underground, which requires about five times more chemical-laden fluids than vertical drilling. "This study is the agency's response to public concern about this practice and Congressional request."
A "lifecycle" approach will be used in the new EPA study. It will allow them to take into account hundreds of reports of water contamination in gas drilling fields across the country. Although the EPA hasn't settled on the exact details, researchers could examine both underground and surface water supplies, gas well construction errors, liquid waste disposal issues and chemical storage plans as part of its assessment.
The oil and gas industry strongly opposes this new approach.
New EPA study includes two Colorado counties
In July 2011, the EPA held meetings with residents of Huerfano and Las Animas County whose water wells have been impacted by fracking. The EPA selected these two counties in the Raton Basin as a case study location for their national hydraulic fracturing study.
Nearly 3,500 wells have been drilled in Las Animas County by Pioneer Resources. Some private wells have showed contamination after fracking operations nearby.
Petroglyph has been drilling in Huerfano county. Several domestic water wells now have increased methane gas concentrations and a well house exploded in 2007. Petroglyph decided to cease coal bed methane operations in the county and is negotiating with COGCC on how to shut down the operations and become exempt from responsibilities after operations have ceased in Huerfano County.
Progress of EPA study
From summer 2010 to February 2011, The New York Times reviewed more than 30,000 pages of documents obtained through open records requests of state and federal agencies. Thousands of internal documents from the EPA, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.
One of the preliminary documents from EPA Region 8 (Colorado, Wyoming and Utah) says, "In responding to and investigating groundwater concerns, Region 8 staff have concluded that there are a number of oil & gas field production practices that have the potential to impact groundwater, including improperly constructed production wells, improperly abandoned wells, and surface activities such as pits, spills, etc.
"Additionally, much of the production pipe which is not plugged or abandoned has corrosion problems, which may provide preferred escape routes when well recompletions take place. In many cases, it may be difficult to discern which practice is causing a problem; for example, improperly abandoned wells may serve as a conduit for contamination activated by hydraulic fracturing."
In December 2011, the EPA reported that chemicals used to hydraulically fracture rocks in drilling for natural gas in a remote valley in central Wyoming are the likely cause of contaminated local water supplies.
Colorado panel denies fracking study
In February 2011, Colorado legislators decided that the state won't get involved with a study of chemicals used in natural-gas drilling.
Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs, wanted state agencies to review an upcoming federal study to see if hydraulic fracturing is affecting drinking water. He also wanted a report to the Legislature about the number of complaints to the state about fracking.
Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project lawyer Alan Curtis said the group would like to see a detailed baseline study of water quality in order to be able to measure possible pollution from drilling. But he did not want to put COGCC in charge of the study, as Wilson's bill did.
"Our experience with the commission has been that their primary motivation is to see that there is as much oil and gas production in the state as can be done. And the water quality concerns are secondary," Curtis said.
Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) Shale Gas Production Subcommittee Reports
On March 31, 2011, President Obama declared that “recent innovations have given us the opportunity to tap large reserves – perhaps a century’s worth” of shale gas. In order to facilitate this development, ensure environmental protection, and meet public concerns, he instructed Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to form a subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) to make recommendations to address the safety and environmental performance of shale gas production.
On August 11, 2011 the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Shale Gas Production Subcommittee released its first ninety-day report. The draft report acknowledges that current regulations may be insufficient to protect the environment and public health.
Some of the Subcommittee’s findings and recommendations:
Improve air quality: Measures should be taken to reduce emissions of air pollutants, ozone precursors, and methane as quickly as practicable. Inadequate data are available about how much methane and other air pollutants are emitted by the consolidated production activities of a shale gas operator in a given area, with such activities encompassing drilling, fracturing, production, gathering, processing of gas and liquids, flaring, storage, and dispatch into the pipeline transmission and distribution network.
Protect water quality: The Subcommittee urges adoption of a systems approach to water management based on consistent measurement and public disclosure of the flow and composition of water at every stage of the shale gas production process.
Disclose fracturing fluid composition: the Subcommittee believes there is no economic or technical reason to prevent public disclosure of all chemicals in fracturing fluids, with an exception for genuinely proprietary information.
Reduce the use of diesel fuel: The Subcommittee believes there is no technical or economic reason to use diesel in shale gas production and recommends reducing the use of diesel engines for surface power in favor of natural gas engines or electricity where available.
Manage short-term and cumulative impacts on communities, land use, wildlife, and ecologies. Each relevant jurisdiction should pay greater attention to the combination of impacts from multiple drilling, production and delivery activities (e.g., impacts on air quality, traffic on roads, noise, visual pollution), and make efforts to plan for shale development impacts on a regional scale.
Create a national best practice organization: The Subcommittee believes the creation of a shale gas industry production organization dedicated to continuous improvement of best practice is needed. They favor a national approach including regional mechanisms that recognize differences in geology, land use,water resources, and regulation.
Fund research and development: The public should expect significant technical advances associated with shale gas production that will significantly improve the efficiency of shale gas production and reduce environmental impact. The Subcommittee recommends that the Administration and the Congress set an appropriate mission for R&D and level funding.
The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Shale Gas Production Subcommittee Second Ninety-Day Report on Nov. 18, 2011 states:
The Subcommittee believes that if action is not taken to reduce the environmental impact accompanying the very considerable expansion of shale gas production expected across the country – perhaps as many as 100,000 wells over the next several decades – there is a real risk of serious environmental consequences causing a loss of public confidence that could delay or stop this activity.
EPA Launches National Study of Hydraulic Fracturing
Broad Scope of EPA's Fracturing Study Raises Ire of Gas Industry
EPA visits southern Colorado, preps for study http://www.huerfanojournal.com/node/3230
E.P.A. Links Tainted Water in Wyoming to Hydraulic Fracturing for Natural Gas
Documents: Natural Gas's Toxic Waste
Panel denies fracking study http://durangoherald.com/article/20110208/NEWS01/702089938/-1/s
Report for Obama Questions Effectiveness of Gas Drilling Regulations
How fracking is harmful
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