EPA set to study fracking impact

Date: March 22, 2010

Nearly $2 million will be allocated for a look at environmental results.

STEVE GELSI MarketWatch

NEW YORK — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it will conduct a massive study to investigate any potential adverse impact of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas, as the energy industry moves to boost domestic natural gas supplies.

The effort comes as part of a move by government officials and academics to grapple with an expected increase in the decades-old practice of extracting natural gas by injecting water and fracturing rock, a practice known as fracking.

In Northeastern Pennsylvania, drilling is proceeding in the Marcellus Shale, a layer of bedrock containing natural gas.

“There are concerns that hydraulic fracturing may impact ground water and surface water quality in ways that threaten human health and the environment,” the EPA said Thursday.

The agency said it\’s reallocating $1.9 million to help pay for a “comprehensive, peer-reviewed” study. Regina Hopper, president of industry group America\’s Natural Gas Alliance, said the EPA study will help affirm the safety of fracking.

“Hydraulic fracturing has been refined and improved over the past 60 years and has been used safely on more than one million U.S. wells,” Hopper said in a prepared statement. While hydraulic fracturing usually takes place far underground, well below aquifers for domestic water supplies, it also produces wastewater which must be treated on site or trucked off for disposal.

Last month, the House Energy and Commerce Committee launched an investigation into the potential impact and said it would like to see more information on the chemicals used in fracturing liquid.

“Hydraulic fracturing could help us unlock vast domestic natural gas reserves once thought unattainable, strengthening America\’s energy independence and reducing carbon emissions,” said Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “As we use this technology in more parts of the country on a much larger scale, we must ensure that we are not creating new environmental and public health problems.”

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