The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced it plans to conduct an in-depth study of the potential effects
of hydraulic fracturing on drinking-water supplies.
A scientific advisory board, composed largely of academics appointed by the EPA administrator, will meet next week to
make recommendations to the agency about the design of the study.
Industry and environmentalists have been divided on hydraulic fracturing and its potential to contaminate
drinking-water supplies, but both sides Monday agreed that a thorough study of the practice is a good thing.
We're glad to see that they've taken that step," said Bruce Baizel, a staff attorney with the Durango-based Oil and
Gas Accountability Project.
Christi Zeller, executive director of the La Plata County Energy Council, said, Maybe this will be the one that helps
In fracing, chemicals, water and sand are pumped into a well at high pressure to fracture rock formations and release
gas. The method, which has been used for decades to extract coal-bed methane in the San Juan Basin, is credited with
unlocking gas reserves across the country.
It's being used more widely and being used in places that are near millions of people's drinking water," Baizel
Zeller said extensive water-well monitoring had been done here, and the EPA's advisory board should take note.
This is going to be the only place in the nation that has this water-well testing," she said. There's some pretty
good data right here in Durango, Colorado, that will help this."
A 2004 EPA study on fracing found no significant threat to drinking water and led Congress to exempt it from federal
legislation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Baizel said that study did not generate any new field work and relied exclusively on existing research.
That has always been our objection," he said.
Companies also are not required to publicly disclose the chemicals in their fracing fluids.
Last year, federal legislation was introduced in the House and Senate that would have removed the exemption and
required companies to make their chemicals public.
So far, Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, have not signed on as
co-sponsors for the bill, which in the House was introduced by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver.
DeGette, in a news release, hailed the EPA study.
It will be a significant step in ensuring that our nation's drinking-water supply is protected. I look forward to
working with EPA to provide the resources it needs to conduct a full evaluation of this important issue," she said.
Baizel said while federal
regulation may not be in the cards right now, requiring disclosure of the chemicals could be.
The disclosure issue is still a good first step," he said.
Congress has appropriated nearly $2 million for the study, which is expected to be complete in 2012.