EPA Announces Study on Hydraulic Fracturing Practices Used in Gas and Oil Production On March 18, 2010, United States Environmental Protection

Author:Mr Jeffrey Bossert Clark
Profession:Kirkland & Ellis LLP
 
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Agency ("EPA") issued a Federal Register notice announcing a meeting of the Science Advisory Board on.1 The Science Advisory Board will be "commenting on EPA's proposed approach to study the potential public health and environmental protection issues that may be associated with hydraulic fracturing." That same day, EPA also announced that it will conduct a $1.8M study of the impacts on water quality and public health associated with hydraulic fracturing.2

Hydraulic fracturing (also known as "fracking" or "fracing") is the process of drilling vertical or horizontal wellbores underground while simultaneously pumping highly pressurized liquids called "fracturing fluids" and sand into the wellbore to create and hold open fissures or "micro fractures" in the rock formation. The fracking process facilitates oil and gas extraction. Hydraulic fracturing has been used for decades to stimulate the production of oil and gas wells; recently, it has come into even wider use as a technique for harvesting natural gas from shale reservoirs, such as Barnett in Texas, Marcellus in Pennsylvania, and Haynesville in Louisiana.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently indicated his support for hydraulic fracturing as an important technique when "done responsibly."3 Greater use of the Nation's abundant natural gas supplies has been touted as a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to promote energy independence. However, critics of hydraulic fracturing have raised concerns about the practice based on a number of recent studies and reports indicating that hydraulic fracturing may cause damage to underground water sources by creating fissures in the groundwater aquifers that then permit the intrusion of the fracturing fluids into drinking water resources.4

In 2004, EPA completed a study that concluded that the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into coalbed methane production wells presented only a minimal threat to underground sources of drinking water.5 Following EPA's 2004 finding, fracking was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act ("SWDA") under the Energy Policy Act of 2005,6 although the exemption does not apply if diesel fuel is included in the fracturing fluid. Generally, oil and gas exploration and production wastes are also exempt from regulation as hazardous wastes under Subtitle C of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act ("RCRA").7

Recently there has been significant attention given to the potential design and issuance of new fracking legislation....

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