Monday, December 17, 2012

More On Anticipated EPA Fracking Study

Mandated by Congress in EPA's fiscal year 2010 budget, the agency's highly anticipated study on the drinking water risks posed by fracking -- the injection of chemical-laced fluids to extract oil and gas -- is expected to set a benchmark for whether EPA needs to regulate the injection practice and whether Congress needs to amend current law to provide that authority.

If EPA decides, based on the final study results, to make the case for expanding federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) would be the most logical place to do that -- though the industry is opposed to such an approach and Congress would first need to reverse a statutory exemption before the agency could regulate the practice.

The study has already proven contentious. Industry groups and members of Congress have urged the agency to narrow the study's scope and to step up scientific scrutiny before the study goes final. While industry has long opposed efforts to regulate the injection practice under SDWA, saying the practice is safe, wastewater contamination issues are also a concern. For example, one particularly contentious question is over disposal of fracking wastewater and how broadly EPA is considering the issue.

EPA's science advisors had urged the agency to consider wastewater disposal practices, though EPA decided that it would only consider whether there is inadequate treatment at municipal and industrial treatment facilities for wastewater from fracking.

At technical meetings held last month, environmentalists called for the agency to broaden its pending assessment to review controversial wastewater disposal to underground reservoirs -- where the majority of wastewater from the industry is disposed, rather than just the limited releases to treatment facilities that EPA is currently reviewing. But EPA told the advocates that the agency will not do such research as part of the pending study -- but rather as part of broader research it is conducting with other federal agencies. (Inside EPA)

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