The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has submitted its draft study plan on hydraulic fracturing for review to the agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), a group of independent scientists.
Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is a process in which large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressures to extract oil and natural gas from underground rock formations. The process creates fractures in formations such as shale rock, allowing natural gas or oil to escape into the well and be recovered. During the past few years, the use of hydraulic fracturing has expanded across much of the country.
EPA scientists are undertaking a study of this practice to better understand any potential impacts it may have, including on groundwater. EPA announced its intention to conduct the study in March 2010 and use the best available science, independent sources of information, a transparent, peer-reviewed process and with consultation from others. Since then, EPA has held a series of public meetings across the country with thousands attending and the agency has developed a sound draft plan for moving forward with the study. (Earlier post.)
The scope of the proposed research includes the full lifespan of water in hydraulic fracturing, from acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced or used water and its ultimate treatment and disposal.
The SAB plans to review the draft plan 7-8 March 2011. Consistent with the operating procedures of the SAB, stakeholders and the public will have an opportunity to provide comments to the SAB during their review. The agency will revise the study plan in response to the SAB’s comments and promptly begin the study. Initial research results and study findings are expected to be made public by the end of 2012, with the goal of an additional report following further research in 2014.