Share This Page

Drilling study gets praise from industry, enviornmentalists

| Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, 11:58 p.m.

A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study on natural gas drilling and its potential for groundwater contamination has received tentative praise from industry and environmental groups.

Glenn Paulson, the EPA's science adviser, describes the project as “one of the most aggressive public outreach programs in EPA history.”

The final report won't come out until late 2014. But a 275-page progress report was released in December and, for all its details, shows that the EPA doesn't plan to address one contentious issue — how often drinking water contamination might occur.

Congress ordered the EPA to study the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which entails blasting a mixture of water, sand and hazardous chemicals at underground shale to release the gas or oil captured in the rock.

As a gas rush surged in parts of the Marcellus Shale region that underlies Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia concerns arose for the watershed that provides drinking water for 17 million people from Philadelphia to New York City.

For the study, the EPA is talking to experts from the industry, the environmental community, and universities. It's conducting its own research and using federal supercomputers to analyze the possibility of contamination.

In the report, the EPA describes what it is and isn't studying. The agency also indicates its final report won't provide a measurement of the likelihood of contamination — for example, once every 100,000 wells or once every 1,000.

The industry and many federal and state officials say fracking is safe when done properly, but environmental groups and some scientists contend the risk of contamination is too great.

Earthworks, an environmental group based in Washington, said it welcomes the EPA study but has concerns with plans not to include some probability of groundwater contamination in the final report.

The EPA had planned to do both computer simulations of water contamination and actual field tests at drilling sites. But the agency hasn't found a drilling company to partner with to test groundwater around a drilling site. That leaves the computer simulations. But the EPA said those won't be able to address the likelihood of contamination “occurring during actual field operations.”

“In its inability to find a single company willing to test water quality before and after drilling and fracking, the EPA is being thwarted in perhaps the most important part of its study of fracking's impacts,” Earthworks said in a statement.

“Computer simulations are not enough,” Alan Septoff, a spokesman for Earthworks, said.

He said the EPA study and any future studies should consider the likelihood of water contamination.

The EPA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The progress report says the EPA is studying the possible impact on drinking water at several stages of the fracking process: when water is drawn from reservoirs or underground sources and used for fracking; when a chemical mix is injected into the ground to break up rock; when wastewater from fracking is disposed of; how the drilling wells and wastewater-storage wells are constructed; and the potential for toxic fluids to migrate from deep underground to near-surface drinking water supplies.

The American Petroleum Institute, an industry lobby based in Washington, said in a statement that the progress report “is just the first step in a multi-year research study.”

“More collaboration, continued transparency and stakeholder involvement are essential elements for any scientifically sound study, and we hope that the rest of this process remains open and any data released has the necessary context,” API policy adviser Stephanie Meadows said.

Despite its concerns, Earthworks described the EPA study as a positive step.

“It represents a step towards EPA's first real scientific inquiry into the safety of fracking,” the group said.

———

Online:

http://www.epa.gov/hfstudy/

Related Content
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.