Around the Water Cooler: An Update on EPA’s Hydraulic Fracturing Study

By Katie Wagner

Hydraulic fracturing is a horizontal drilling technique used to release natural gas and oil from underground reserves. In 2010, natural gas provided 25% of the energy for residential and industrial use in the U.S. The country has vast reserves of natural gas and the nation’s clean energy future relies on it.

The increased production of natural gas and oil from hydraulic fracturing has led to increasing concerns about its potential impact on human health and the environment, and a topic of scientific study.

In 2010, at the request of Congress, EPA initiated a national study to understand the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. To establish the study’s scope and plan, EPA held multiple meetings with stakeholders as well as technical workshops with experts.

The scope of the research is focused on the five stages of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle: water acquisition; chemical mixing; well injection; flowback and produced water; and wastewater treatment and waste disposal. The study plan is designed to answer research questions through the analysis of existing data, case studies, scenario evaluations (through computer modeling), laboratory studies, and toxicological studies.

Today, EPA announced the release of its report highlighting the progress it has made to date on the hydraulic fracturing study. The progress report summarizes the current status of 18 research projects undertaken as part of the study, and provides project-specific updates that include research approach, status, and next steps.

The report does not draw conclusions about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, and draft study results are expected in late 2014.

If you want to learn more about EPA’s research and download the Progress Report, look no further than EPA’s website on the Hydraulic Fracturing Study.

About the Author: Katie Wagner is a student contractor with the Science Communication Team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

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