Beveridge & Diamond
 

EPA Announces Study on Environmental Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing

Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., March 25, 2010

On March 18, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will study the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on water quality and human health.  The study responds to a Congressional request that EPA follow up on the Agency’s recent analysis of hydraulic fracturing.1

Hydraulic fracturing refers to the practice that injects a mixture of chemicals, water, and sand into the ground at high pressure to crack rock and release oil and natural gas from coal seams, shale formations, and other geologic formations.  The practice, which has been used for decades, has vastly enlarged domestic oil and gas reserves available for exploitation by energy companies.  As potentially significant natural gas reserves are discovered in shale deposits in the vicinity of more densely populated areas, certain interest groups have raised concerns over ground and surface water contamination and impacts on public health.

EPA’s Office of Research and Development drafted a study approach that will include “(1) defining research questions and identifying data gaps; (2) conducting a robust process for stakeholder input and research prioritization; (3) with this input, developing a detailed study design that will undergo external peer-review, leading to (4) implementing the planned research studies.”2  EPA has allocated $2 million for the study this year; it will seek additional funds for 2011.

EPA has sought review of the proposed study by the Science Advisory Board (SAB), a federal advisory committee that provides independent scientific and technical advice to EPA.  According to EPA, both SAB advice and “extensive stakeholder input” will guide the Agency as it finalizes the study design.3  SAB will hold a public meeting on April 7-8 to evaluate and provide comment on the proposed study.  Scoping materials for the study and other information related to the public meeting are available at the SAB website

The recently announced study follows a 2004 study on hydraulic fracturing in which EPA concluded that the practice posed no threat to drinking water.  Based in part on this  2004 study, Congress included a provision in the 2005 Energy Policy Act that exempts hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).4  Legislation proposed in 2009 (H.R. 2766 and S. 1215) would eliminate the SDWA exemption, authorize EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing under that law, and require disclosure of the chemicals utilized in the fracturing process. 

Beveridge & Diamond is monitoring the rapid developments in this area, from proposed legislation, to EPA’s renewed study, to possible lawsuits in state and federal courts.  For more information on current actions impacting the use of  hydraulic fracturing, please contact Fred Wagner at (202) 789-6041, fwagner@bdlaw.com, Mark Duvall at (202) 789-6090, mduvall@bdlaw.com, or Peter Gregg at (512) 391-8030, pgregg@bdlaw.com.


1 The request was contained in the House of Representatives’ Fiscal Year 2010 Appropriation Conference Committee report, H.R. Rep. No. 111-316 (2009) at 109, and in the House Appropriations Committee report on the same legislation, H.R. Rep. No. 111-180 (2009) at 99-100.    

2 EPA Press Release, EPA Initiates Hydraulic Fracturing Study: Agency seeks input from Science Advisory Board (Mar. 18, 2010). 

3 EPA Press Release

4 The Energy Policy Act of 2005, section 322, amended the definition of “underground injection” in section 1421(d) of the SDWA to exclude “the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.” 

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