Science Wednesday:Getting the Word Out About EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Research

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By Dayna Gibbons

As far as I’m concerned, daylight savings time could not have come at a better time. Last week, EPA released its final study plan to research the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. As a member of the science communications team, part of my job was to help ensure the study plan and a host of supporting material—from a press release to web site updates to @EPAresearch “tweets”—were ready so we could share the news. There was a lot to do, and by the weekend I was grateful to have an extra hour of sleep!

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it’s more commonly called, is a stimulus technique that gas producers use to extract natural gas out of sources such as coalbeds and shale formations. (It’s also used for other applications, including oil recovery.) Many are hopeful that fracking will play a key role in unlocking natural gas from reserves across large areas of the U.S. Yet, concerns have been raised about the impact such practices might have on drinking water resources.

Toward the end of 2010, Congress directed EPA to conduct research to examine the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. Since then, EPA has engaged with the public, the scientific community, and interested stakeholders to ensure public input into the study’s design where appropriate. The draft plan went through a public comment period and was peer-reviewed by EPA’s Science Advisory Board to ensure a scientifically sound approach.

EPA’s study will answer questions across the full hydraulic fracturing water lifecycle. This means that the data our scientists collect will help us understand the potential impacts on water resources from the beginning to end of the fracking process—from using large amounts of ground and surface waters, to drilling activities and the use of chemicals and, finally, the management, disposal, and treatment of used water.

The first study results will be released in 2012, and the final report will be released in 2014. In addition, EPA will regularly host webinars—including today at 3:30pm and tomorrow at 2:30pm—and provide updates throughout the study in order to keep the public informed of the progress. I’m sure that will continue to keep me busy, but at least I have an extra hour of sleep under my belt.

About the author: Dayna Gibbons has worked in communications at EPA since 2002.

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