EPA selects regions for fracking studies, including Haynesville and Barnett

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has named seven geographic regions in which it will do case studies as part of its assessment of the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.

The sites were selected with input from stakeholders, including the public, local and state officials, industry and environmental organizations, the EPA said. Field work in some of the regions will begin this summer.

The studies will be broken into two study groups: prospective (meaning looking at their future possible effects) and retrospective studies.

The two prospective studies will look at the hydraulic fracturing process throughout the life cycle of a well. These will be done in DeSoto Parish, La., in the Haynesville Shale, and Washington County, Pa., in the Marcellus Shale.

The five retrospective case studies will look at areas where hydraulic fracturing has already occurred for any effect on drinking water resources. These areas include:

  • Kildeer, and Dunn counties, N.D., in the Bakken Shale
  • Wise and Denton counties, Texas, in the Barnett Shale
  • Bradford, Susquehanna and Washington counties, Pa.,  in the Marcellus Shale
  • Las Animas County, Colo., in the Raton Basin

“This is an important part of a process that will use the best science to help us better understand the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water,” said Paul Anastas, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “We’ve met with community members, state experts and industry and environmental leaders to choose these case studies. This is about using the best possible science to do what the American people expect the EPA to do — ensure that the health of their communities and families are protected.”

The fracking study was first announced in March 2010 in response to concerns that the technique may have contaminated drinking water in rural communities in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wyoming and other areas.

The broad scope of the study, which will look at the impact on drinking water beginning with selection of a drilling site through production and well abandonment, has drawn criticism from the oil and gas industry.

The EPA’s water chief has said previously he believes state-level monitoring of fracking is currently adequate, but the continued expansion of natural gas drilling using the technique prompted Congress to ask for more information.

The studies will include literature review, collection of data and information from states, industry and communities, laboratory work and computer modeling.

More than 40 case studies were nominated for inclusion in the study. The areas were prioritized and selected based on criteria that included the fracking activities’ proximity to population and drinking water supplies, knowledge gaps that could be addressed, and, for the retrospective studies, concerns about impaired water quality and environmental impacts.

Sites were prioritized based on geographic and geologic diversity, population at risk, site status, unique geological or hydrology features, characteristics of water resources  and land use.

The University of Texas is also doing its own fracking study, as it the Department of Energy, while the scientists with the University of Texas-Arlington are testing water samples from Barnett Shale-area water wells for a study.