Due to the growing awareness and warranted concern over the controversial and under regulated natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the House Appropriations Conference Committee, as part of its FY2010 budget report, directed the EPA to study and evaluate the practice’s effect on drinking water, and report to the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) for a peer review. In the study, the EPA will consider five existing wells retrospectively to determine the effect they have had on local water supplies and two new wells prospectively throughout their entire lifecycles. Yesterday, after originally considering 48 possible sites, the EPA released the locations of the seven wells to be studied:
Haynesville Shale – DeSoto Parish, La. – Chesapeake Energy
Marcellus Shale – Washington County, Pa. – Range Resources
Bakken Shale – Kildeer, and Dunn Counties, N.D.
Barnett Shale – Wise and Denton Counties
Texas Marcellus Shale – Bradford and Susquehanna Counties
Pa. Marcellus Shale – Washington County
Pa. Raton Basin – Las Animas County, Colo.
(The operators of the retrospective wells have not yet been released)
In what is known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” hydraulic fracturing is currently exempt from
regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This study could be a very important first step in federally regulating the process.
On the other hand, although very important and necessary, this study only addresses fracking’s effect on water supplies, not air and global warming. Fracking is often advertised as a “clean burning fuel,” which is attractive to many who are concerned about air pollution and global warming. However, a recent Cornell University study suggests that, from cradle to grave, natural gas does more to exacerbate global warming than coal, which is usually considered to be the dirtiest of energy sources. There is strong evidence, anecdotal and other, that indicates that the EPA study will show that fracking, as currently practiced, can, in fact, have a very serious negative impact on drinking water supplies. However, it is important to keep in mind that the very reason many people are considering natural gas to be an attractive alternative, namely that it “burns cleaner,” is irrelevant when we consider its effects from cradle to grave, according to the Cornell study.
The EPA plans to release its initial findings by the end of 2012, with a full report by 2014. Criteria for case study location selection and other information on the study can be found at the EPA’s website.
-Scott McDonald, Public Citizen Summer Intern, Senior at Fordham University