Sunday, February 13, 2011

State and Federal Agencies Evaluating Impacts of Shale-Gas Fracking

Protecting Drinking Water is the Highest Priority

The NY state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is in the process of
drafting regulations on shale-gas drilling using the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. A six month drilling moratorium is currently in effect.

The DEC and officials in the areas of health and energy are looking at the experiences in other states that permit fracking. In nearby
northern Pennsylvania, gas drilling has been linked to well water contamination in several towns.

Acting DEC head Joe Martens said, "As I think the governor has said...we won't undertake drilling until we're confident it can be done safely. And protecting water supplies is, at the essence, our highest priority."

DEC regulations proposed earlier had received about 13,000 public comments, most of which the DEC says have been addressed in updated regulations in a draft document to be completed in June or thereabouts. The draft will then be subject to another 30-day public comment period before final regulations are issued.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a draft plan to study the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources in the U.S.. The plan will be reviewed by an independent Scientific Advisory Board on March 7-8, 2011. Stakeholders and the public will have an opportunity to provide comments during this review.

The EPA plans to study the hydraulic fracturing water lifecycle--from water acquisition to wastewater treatment and disposal--and the potential drinking water issues at each stage of the process.

The fundamental research questions that will be examined are:
  • Water acquisition: How might large volume water withdrawals from ground and surface water impact drinking water resources?
  • Chemical mixing: What are the possible impacts of releases of hydraulic fracturing fluids on drinking water resources?
  • Well injection: What are the possible impacts of the injection and fracturing process on drinking water resources?
  • Flowback and produced water: What are the possible impacts of releases of flowback and produced water on drinking water resources?
  • Wastewater treatment and waste disposal: What are the possible impacts of inadequate treatment of hydraulic fracturing wastewaters on drinking water resources?
The EPA will revise the study plan in response to the Scientific Advisory Board's comments and then begin the actual study. Initial research results are expected by the end of 2012, with a goal for a report in 2014.

The EPA draft plan is described in a
140 page document and is available here.

More information about the NY DEC study is available at

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