Wednesday, January 25, 2012

EPA Fracking Study to Focus on Five States—But Not Wyoming

The Environmental Protection Agency will focus its national study of hydraulic fracturing on seven areas in five states but will exclude the two Wyoming gas fields where agency researchers have already collected some of the most in-depth data on drilling's environmental impacts.

The study—which was announced last March, without specifics on research sites—will investigate alleged water contamination from drilling in five areas in Texas, Colorado, North Dakota and Pennsylvania. It also will encompass cradle-to-grave research projects in Pennsylvania and Louisiana, where the agency will track drilling's effects on water quality from before the drill bit hits the ground to after hydraulic fracturing has been performed.

"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," said Paul Anastas, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Research and Development, in a statement.
Conspicuously absent from the list are sites in Sublette County and Pavillion, Wyo., where EPA scientists began testing water and collecting data three years ago in response to allegations of drilling-related contamination. In Sublette County, one of the most active drilling fields in the country, researchers discovered benzene in 88 water wells in 2008 and have been testing ever since. In Pavillion, the EPA found metals, methane, hydrocarbons and traces of compounds related to fracking chemicals in residential water wells in 2009.
Research in both areas is ongoing and may still inform the EPA's work, but it will not play a central role in the nationwide investigation into whether hydraulic fracturing is safe or presents a risk to drinking water. The EPA did not immediately respond to questions about the role of the Wyoming research.
Fracturing is a process used to extract trapped oil and gas from thousands of feet below ground by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under enough force to shatter the rock and allow the oil and gas to flow out. Advancements in the technology have made large, deeply buried natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale and elsewhere accessible for the first time. But the process is exempt from federal regulation, and there is little research showing where the chemicals wind up after they are pumped underground or how they can be safely disposed of after the drilling is finished.


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