The results of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ongoing Study of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources are expected to be released in late 2014 and are widely anticipated by stakeholders from industry, environmental groups, municipalities, and the public alike. Recently, the EPA released a Progress Report (http://www.epa.gov/hfstudy/) presenting the status of the 18 research projects that comprise the study. The scope of the congressionally requested study involves research on each of the five stages of the hydraulic fracturing process that can potentially impact water resources—water acquisition from ground and surface water sources; chemical mixing; well injection; flowback and produced water; and wastewater treatment and waste disposal. While the Progress Report does not draw any conclusions at this time about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water, it provides details on the agency’s research approach, as well as next steps for ongoing projects and analyses. The study is drawing on the analysis of existing data, much of it provided by the oil and gas industry, and states with a high degree of oil and gas production activity. Research also encompasses the application of complex computer models and simulations to evaluate scenarios, laboratory studies, toxicity assessments of fracturing chemicals, and sampling and analysis at case study locations.
Designated by the EPA as a “Highly Influential Scientific Assessment,” the agency has taken steps, as outlined in the Progress Report, to ensure that the results of the hydraulic fracturing study will be scientifically defensible while employing a transparent, peer-reviewed process and working in consultation with government agencies, non-governmental organizations, industry, and others from the public and private sector.