On November 1, the EPA released its much awaited study on the environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing. It was immediately denounced by six oil and gas industry associations.
The EPA “has moved forward with data collection for the Study, ignoring both its commitment to and a Congressional direction to ensure transparency and stakeholder input,” the six industry associations, namely the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), the American Petroleum Institute (API), the American Exploration & Production Council (AXPC), the US Oil & Gas Association, America’s Natural Gas Alliance (anga) and the Petroleum Equipment Suppliers Association (PESA), wrote in the letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Download the originally EPA study, in this Breaking Energy document post.
Furthermore, the letter claims, samples for the study have not been gathered in a publicly available study plan nor do they follow proper testing procedures.
“We urge you either to postpone such sampling or prohibit the use of any such samples,” the letter says.
The letter claims that EPA officials began collecting data for the study in August 2011, months before the final study plan was released on November 1.
“This issue is crucial to the integrity of the Study since, without an approved and appropriate protocol and, more importantly, without clear Study goals, it will be difficult to ascertain the quality and appropriateness of any of the data collected, samples obtained, and conclusions reached.”
Samples collected will be studied at EPA testing facilities rather than at independent third-party laboratories, the letter says, a protocol that could affect results. In addition, it says, landowner agreements for access to testing sites are restricted to EPA officials, making it impossible for other parties to obtain their own data and duplicate results.
The Long And Winding Road
The final EPA report will be delivered only in 2014, with preliminary results being released to the public beginning in 2012. Since May 2010, when the report was originally set into motion, the EPA has been accepting input from states, industry associations, environmental and public health groups and various individuals on the best method to conduct the report.
But the industry letter claims that the EPA did not take stakeholder concerns into account as promised. The EPA claims it did take all input into account and its final report was also approved by the Science Advisory Board (SAB) to ensure its processes were scientifically sound.
“This study is intended to both provide data where there is a lack of adequate information and contribute to resolving scientific uncertainties. The study we are conducting will inform Congress and policymakers about any future decisions. We will, however, use our existing authorities where necessary to address imminent threats to human health and the environment,” the EPA told Breaking Energy in a statement sent through a spokesperson.
Huge Gas Potential Hangs In The Balance
Used to extract natural gas from shale rock, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has been the subject of heated debate in recent months. Industry insiders claim that the relatively new technology has the potential to potential to unlock enormously rich shale plays that could wean America from its addiction to imported oil and help the country transition from coal to renewables electricity generation. But environmentalists claim that fracking is just too harmful for the environment and could have countless negative impacts on human health.
The EPA report outlines the methodology the government agency will use in its attempt to understand whether and how fracking might contaminate underground drinking water wells. Five retrospective and two prospective case studies will be included in the report, which will look at the full cycle of water in the fracking process, from water acquisition and the mixing in of fracking chemicals, to the actual fracking process and the eventual post-fracking process including water flowback management.
“The President has made clear the central role natural gas will continue to play in our economy, today and for our secure energy future,” said Bob Perciacepe, EPA’s Deputy Administrator. “As the development of this important resource expands, we are taking steps to fully understand any potential impacts and to ensure that this abundant resource is developed safely and responsibly.”
Photo Caption: Natural gas is burned off next to water reservoirs used for fracking at an oil well site August 23, 2011 near Tioga, North Dakota. Hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking or hydrofracking, is the process of initiating and subsequently propagating a fracture in a rock layer, employing the pressure of a fluid as the source of energy The fracturing, known as a frack job is done from a wellbore drilled into reservoir rock formations, in order to increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas and coal seam gas. A new oil boom in western North Dakota has produced thousands of jobs as the Bakken formation is tapped for the liquid commodity.