In 2011, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated its Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources. EPA’s intent is to study the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, if any. EPA also wants to identify the driving factors that may affect the severity and frequency of drinking water resource impacts. EPA has designed the scope of the research around five stages of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. Each stage of the cycle is associated with a primary research question:
1. Water Acquisition: What are the possible drinking water resource impacts of large volume water withdrawals from ground and surface waters?
2. Chemical Mixing: What are the possible drinking water resource impacts of hydraulic fracturing fluid surface spills on or near well pads?
3. Well Injection: What are the possible drinking water resource impacts of the injection and fracturing process?
4. Flowback and Produced Water: What are the possible drinking water resource impacts of flowback and produced water (collectively referred to as “hydraulic fracturing wastewater”) surface spills on or near well pads?
5. Wastewater Treatment and Waste Disposal: What are the possible drinking water resource impacts of inadequate treatment of hydraulic fracturing wastewater?
EPA’s study will ultimately produce a final report that describes 18 research projects underway to answer these research questions. The research projects are organized according to five different types of research activities: analysis of existing data, scenario evaluations, laboratory studies, toxicity assessments, and case studies. The EPA is committed to conducting a study that uses the best available science, independent sources of information, and a transparent, peer-reviewed process that will ensure the validity and accuracy of the results.
The EPA has designated the report as a “Highly Influential Scientific Assessment,” which will undergo peer review by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, an independent and external federal advisory committee that conducts peer reviews of significant EPA research products and activities. Individual reports and papers will come out of both the internal and external review processes to ensure appropriate use of data. The final report of results will be released for public comment in 2014.
Additional information about the EPA’s Study of Hydraulic Fracturing is available at http://www.epa.gov/hfstudy/index.html. This site includes links to the December 2012 progress report, the executive summary, press releases, and information on how interested stakeholders may participate. Any questions about the site or the study may be directed to Katie Wagner (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dayna Gibbons (email@example.com), the Hydraulic Fracturing Study Website Editors.