Journalism in the Public Interest

EPA Wants to Look at Full Lifecycle of Fracking in New Study

An EPA study would be the most comprehensive investigation yet of whether hydraulic fracturing risks polluting drinking water near oil and gas wells across the nation.


The EPA has proposed examining every aspect of hydraulic fracturing, from water withdrawals to waste disposal, according to a draft plan the agency released Tuesday. If the study goes forward as planned, it would be the most comprehensive investigation of whether the drilling technique risks polluting drinking water near oil and gas wells across the nation.

The agency wants to look at the potential impacts on drinking water of each stage involved in hydraulic fracturing, where drillers mix water with chemicals and sand and inject the fluid into wells to release oil or natural gas. In addition to examining the actual injection, the study would look at withdrawals, the mixing of the chemicals, and wastewater management and disposal. The agency, under a mandate from Congress, will only look at the impact of these practices on drinking water.

The agency’s scientific advisory board will review the draft plan on March 7-8 and will allow for public comments then. The EPA will consider any recommendations from the board and then begin the study promptly, it said in a news release. A preliminary report should be ready by the end of next year, the release said, with a full report expected in 2014.

A statement from the oil and gas industry group Energy in Depth gave a lukewarm assessment of the draft.

“Our guys are and will continue to be supportive of a study approach that’s based on the science, true to its original intent and scope,” the statement read. “But at first blush, this document doesn’t appear to definitively say whether it’s an approach EPA will ultimately take.”

The study, announced in March, comes amid rising public concern about the safety of fracking, as ProPublica has been reporting for years. While it remains unclear whether the actual fracturing process has contaminated drinking water, there have been more than 1,000 reports around the country of contamination related to drilling, as we reported in 2008. In September 2010, the EPA warned residents of a Wyoming town not to drink their well water and to use fans while showering to avoid the risk of explosion. Investigators found methane and other chemicals associated with drilling in the water, but they had not determined the cause of the contamination.

Drillers have been fracking wells for decades, but with the rise of horizontal drilling into unconventional formations like shale, they are injecting far more water and chemicals underground than ever before. The EPA proposal notes that 603 rigs were drilling horizontal wells in June 2010, more than twice as many as were operating a year earlier. Horizontal wells can require millions of gallons of water per well, a much greater volume than in conventional wells.

One point of contention is the breadth of the study. Chris Tucker, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, said he understands the need to address any stage of the fracking that might affect drinking water, but he’s skeptical that water withdrawals meet the criteria.

“The only way you can argue that issues related to water demand are relevant to that question is if you believe the fracturing process requires such a high volume of water that its very execution threatens the general availability of the potable sources,” he wrote in an e-mail.

The EPA proposal estimates that fracking uses 70 to 140 billion gallons of water annually, or about the same amount used by one or two cities of 2.5 million people. In the Barnett Shale, in Texas, the agency estimates fracking for gas drilling consumes nearly 2 percent of all the water used in the area.

The EPA proposes using two or three “prospective” case studies to follow the course of drilling and fracking wells from beginning to end. It would also look at three to five places where drilling has reportedly contaminated water, including two potential sites in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, and one site each in Texas, Colorado and North Dakota.

Fracking Bad. Clean Water Good.  IzOPnYDe

Dumass Ithink

Feb. 9, 2011, 4:16 p.m.

It’s all in the plan to pollute our well water and have them waiting in the wings to sella “clean” water- of course at an effin premium.  We just won’t learn how tese energy effers operate.

The above article states that “The EPA proposal estimates that fracking uses 70 to 140 billion gallons of water annually, or about the same amount used by one or two cities of 2.5 million people. In the Barnett Shale, in Texas, the agency estimates fracking for gas drilling consumes nearly 2 percent of all the water used in the area.”

If large-scale shale gas drilling goes forward as the gas industry has planned, it is likely that a higher percentage of the gas wells being fracked will be horizontal shale gas wells, and since this type of well consumes very high volumes of water, it may be that we can expect annual water withdrawals for fracking to increase significantly beyond 70 billion to 140 billion gallons. So, while the water withdrawal phase of the operation may be the least troubling aspect of a very troubling process, we should probably not shrug off the effects of withdrawing water for fracking, particularly in areas where water scarcity is already a problem or when withdrawal affects environments (e.g. trout streams) that may be especially sensitive.

Note also that there are only a few U.S. cities with a population of 2.5 million or more. The entire population of PA is about 12.7 million.

It is important to remember that at this point when frack water returns to the surface it must be removed from the water cycle.  It is then transported and stored in Class II injection wells deep into the salt layers of ancient sea beds.  Its use should not be compared to consumption by cities or agriculture where it returns to use over and over again.  The ongoing maintenance responsibility with its associated storage costs and future unknown risks are what we casually hand off to the next generations.  Unless we can drastically reduce the amount of water required for fracking, totally recycle it, or clean it to degree that it is potable, this is an unacceptable use.  We have a fixed amount of water on this planet.  Since we are unwilling to address population control, we had better think about how much water we want to remove from the system forever.

It’s about time.  I hope they do something to stop it before it’s too late.

Patrick Walker

Feb. 9, 2011, 7:27 p.m.

While I agree with the general spirit of Joyce’s remarks, especially the bit about our unwillingness to address population control, I do wonder the sentence “We have a fixed amount of water on this planet” is too optimistic. I was recently reading world-famed enviromentalist Lester Brown’s book “World on the Edge,” and to all indications, the world water supply may already be in steep decline. Areas that rely on irrigation to grow crops, like parts of Saudi Arabia, China, India and the U.S., have already totally or significant drained deep-underground fossil aquifers, and this water, like fossil fuels, is NOT renewable. Also, with their rising urbanization and growing industrial uses, China and India are draining their water tables faster than precipitation can restore them.

The moral: areas like the states of the Marcellus shale, rich in water and minimally dependent on irrigation for farming, should think twice before risking their water to the consumptive use and potential contamination of unconventional gas drilling. Ditto of course for jeopardizing the soil quality of their farmland.

Susan Sullivan

Feb. 9, 2011, 7:59 p.m.

The Delaware River Basin, comprised of over 15,000 acres, The headwaters of the Delaware feed the resevoirs that provide NYC with its unfiltered drinking water.  As the Delaware continues its journey toward Philadelphia, in provides drinking water to that city as well as Trenton, New Jersey.  This year, the River has been designated America’s Most Endangered River because of the threat of the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.  On the PA side, drilling has already commenced, and contaminated the drinking water of DimockPA, among other places,  Dimock is about 60 miles from the Delaware.  At this time, the Delaware River Basin is off limits to drilling.  This may be about to change as the Delaware River Basin Commission is planning to implement regulations, and then issue permits to drill in the Basin.  This can’t be allowed to happen, prior to the release of the EPA study.  We are talking about the water supply for 1/5 of the population of the US.  Once contaminated, the damage cannot be undone.  Google DRBC, and submit your comment before March 16, 2010.  Ask them to wait until the EPA issues its study before proceeding. These regulations have no scientific basis.  What on earth is the hurry?

jeremy schwarz

Feb. 9, 2011, 8:11 p.m.

If it is a step in the direction away from foreign dependency then I’m all for it. EPA will make regulations and help protect the water. Nothing is 100 percent safe, its a plan and I like it.

Hmmm… we get independent of foreign sources of energy, and then have to import potable water from Canada maybe? Or Siberia?  Sorry, water is a much more critical resource than gas.

Patrick Walker

Feb. 9, 2011, 8:39 p.m.

Natural gas has been called—but has by no means been proven—a step away from foreign energy dependency. For that to happen, we’d have to convert our cars from petroleum to gas. That would cost billions of dollars, but would only be worth it if gas were really a cleaner fossil fuel than oil. Although it certainly BURNS cleaner, mounting evidence shows that gas extraction, especially by unconventional drilling, is a lot dirtier in greenhouse terms than originally thought, mainly due to methane leaks. Whether it’s dirtier than oil is still an open question, but it’s probably too dirty to help much with climate change at all. Unless it’s SIGNIFICANTLY better in climate change effects than oil, it’s probably a huge waste spending the billions of dollars needed to convert cars to natural gas. And fixing the methane leaks may be possible, but this will again take many years and an investment of billions of dollars.

So, gas seems too risky in its climate change effects to be an effective substitute for oil and free us of our energy dependence. And with the costs required to fix the problems with natural gas, renewable energies start to look competitively priced, and a far better long-term solution to our energy independence.

One other thing, frequently overlooked—increasingly large shares of gas developing companies operating in the U.S. are owned by foreign countries. Not exactly energy independence.

This year, the River has been designated America’s Most Endangered River because of the threat of the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Any citation for this claim?

Kevin A. McDonald

Feb. 10, 2011, 12:42 a.m.

Let’s hope they act in the interest of all Americans. I would say clean water is in the interest of all Americans.

Steve Hopkins

Feb. 10, 2011, 2:49 a.m.

This sounds great on the surface of it, but should not be confused with any sort of victory by those who would try to stem the tide of relentless, deep-pocketed gas drilling interests in fouling what’s left of our nation’s reasonably clean groundwater. While the Bush-gutted and still-toothless EPA flounders around attempting to conduct a too-little-too-late"study” amid attacks from dissembling Energy In Depth hacks, the well-oiled fracking contingent is confidently proceeding as if they’d cleared every hurdle—which they probably have. The only hope for stopping chemical-dependent horizontal fracking is that GasLand wins an Oscar and some hotshot mass tort lawyer sacrifices a potential future payday and gets to work NOW, harassing the frackers with injunctions BEFORE a region’s water is poisoned.

James Mitchell

Feb. 10, 2011, 5:04 a.m.

A Company in Canada by the name of Gasfrac Energy Services (GSFVF.PK) has a process using liquified Petroleum known as LPG to Frac gas and oil wells.This eliminates the use of water and is 100% recovered leaving the drill area clean.More info is available on Google’s web site.This will be the future of fracking wells

While it remains unclear whether the actual fracturing process has contaminated drinking water, there have been more than 1,000 reports [5] around the country of contamination related to drilling, as we reported in 2008

I had to pull the bull$hit horn out for this one.

As I am sure you well remember, David Kopel found Lustgardens original claim of 1000 contamination cases to be pure unadulturated bull$hit, as Kopel contacted the same exact sources Lustgarden claims to have used and not only could they not verify Lustgardens numbers, but they informed Kopel that they didnt even compile statistics. 

I’ll give you Propublica people this much though, you certainly don’t let facts get in the way of telling a good story.

What the article didnt mention either is that a vast amount of Frac water is produced water and/or recycled flowback, not a new freshwater source as cited. Fraccing, which needs a particular quality of water, does not need potable water.

Are We Fracking Around With Our Drinking Water?

America’s Impending Water Crisis

Timothy R. Ruggiero

Feb. 10, 2011, 1:17 p.m.

EID is not credible, and nothing that comes from them is credible. Enrrgy In Depth is hardly ‘unbiased’ when there whole existance is bought and paid for by Industry to help push the distorted truth, play word games with people and generally disagree and dispute everything negative about natural gas well development.

It’s time for the Industry to put it’s money where it’s mouth is. Let’s do this: Survey every single complaint of water contamination and then dtermine where this water is in relation to a gas field. IF you survey 100 complaints, and 99 of them are on or near a gas field, would EID just dismiss this as ‘coincidence’? Better yet, water testing is expensive for most individuals. Every lease should have two water tests built in to the lease, paid for by the operator and conducted by an independent lab with no ties to the Industry. 1) A pre-drilling water test to establish a baseline. and 2) A post-drilling water test to determine if contamination exists. Also inlcuded in the lease should be a clause that makes the operator wholly responsible for clean up, repair or other costs involved as a result of contamination, and any contamination that comes as a result of any stage of drilling is assumed that the driller is the responsible party.

If Industry and all their paid liars, such as Energy In Depth want to maintain there is no water contamination as a result of fracking or any other part of the drilling process, and there’s zero chnace of contamination, then EID as well as every operator out there shouldn’t have a problem with agreeing to these terms.

haha. And you don’t think ProPublica and the billion-dollar NGO’s aren’t biased? You are so funny!  Just because there may be a part per billion detection of a particular hydrocarbon does not automatically mean that the source is drilling and/or fraccing activity.  Did you ever consider that in oil/gas fields there may be a natural source of hydrocarbons in the water? However, I do agree that baseline sampling—prior to development—is an often overlooked necessity. Not just on that lease, not just at that well location, but the whole potential field needs to be investigated.  Just sayin.

@ Timothy R. Ruggiero

You know, EID has a better track record than Propublica, and Lustgarden in particular. How many times do Lustgarden’s “facts” have to be exposed as garbage, sometimes completely invented other times just distorted, before people realize that the garbage written by Propublica on the gas industry aint worth the pixels its written with.

Patrick Walker

Feb. 10, 2011, 5:23 p.m.

I agree with Tim Ruggiero on the water testing in leases, but I’d add to this an idea I’m trying to push in PA: state tax rebates for independent water testing by unleased people in drilling areas.

It would be one thing if the combo of technologies here (high-volume slickwater horizontal hydrofracking) were proven by a long track record, but—particularly in tight shale like the Marcellus, it’s experimental; the first test well was drilled by Range Resources in 2003. And, suspiciously, drilling didn’t begin here in earnest until Bush’s 2005 energy act exempted the gas industry from the Safe Drinking Water Act and a host of other environmental laws. The scientific “father of the Marcellus,” Terry Engelder of Penn State,  has admitted in a public debate with Tony Ingraffea that drillers are learning on the job.

I think it’s totally proper for people whose consent was never asked to be up in arms about an experimental set of technologies that are very disruptive in their community impact and threaten our housing values; I think it’s totally just that we receive at least the minimum compensation of having independent water tests paid for by the state that imposed this on us. The state of PA could make up the rebate revenue by a severance tax—which it’s simply insane we don’t have.

fracking hater

Feb. 10, 2011, 5:53 p.m.

read this article from vanity fair on the dangers of fracking: ordinary people’s land being drilled on without their permission, and consequently, having their animals die, their families fall ill, and gaining the ability to light their kitchen sink water on fire due to all the methane seeping into their water wells. this is now happening in a residential area close to me and it scares the hell out of me. sadly no matter what we do big oil (and natural gas apparently) will find a way to make their money whilst making our lives worse.

A step in the right direction, but when the results are released I can hear it already.
Let’s give it a shot:
“Results indicate no prior contamination or insignificant risk of ground water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing operations…. prior reported contamination has been linked to improper casing and well engineering or was naturally occurring.”

Response from opponents of said process… “Don’t believe it. The EPA is in industry’s pocket.”

Or, “Studies indicate that there have been a number of instances where hydraulic fracturing has resulted in unforeseen ground water contamination, along with surface run-off and uncontrolled pollution…”

Response from opponents: “See we told you, now ban all drilling in the US…”
Worst response from O&G industry: “Further study is required..”
Better response from O&G: “Yes, we recognized the risk, and started to improve our drilling and casing standard prior to the start of the study. We are also employing state of the art desal/RO tech to clean up produced water…”

Great to see the EPA “wants” to launch a “comprehensive” investigation. I want a million dollars for retirement, but who knows if I’ll get it. This article is rather frustrating.

@Mike H (O&G troll?)- a lot of noise with the BS horn, but absolutely no back-up facts= no credibility.

Mike H. comments on Feb 10th:  David Kopel found Lustgardens original claim of 1000 contamination cases to be pure unadulturated bull$hit, as Kopel contacted the same exact sources Lustgarden claims to have used and not only could they not verify Lustgardens numbers, but they informed Kopel that they didnt even compile statistics.

Very misleading, Mr H., so I call bull on you.  Two different questions result in two different answers.

Propublica is correct in that there have been more than 1000 reports across the country of contamination related to drilling.  The potential dangers of fracking has been ignored and largely unknown until the past two years.  So, yes, there are thousands of reports about water contamination in which gas drilling was the potential source. It’s a serious health issue that is still under investigation.

David Kopel asked a different and very specific question to extract an answer that supports his employers’ agenda: How many cases of groundwater contamination have been documented as resulting from hydraulic fracturing?  The obvious answer is “None” of course.  And ProPublica acknowledges this with the preface, “While it remains unclear whether the actual fracturing process has contaminated drinking water…”

So, Mr. H., you certainly cloud the facts to tell your skewed story.

Conrad, nice try and all but the article linked here with the 1000 cases of contamination claim attributed these to hydraulic fractuing and was, in fact, shown to be complete malarkey.

The EPA has already performed 2 through studies on hydraulic fracturing and both times found it to be safe. One can only wonder why Propublica continues with its dishonest smear campaign .

a ‘full’ lifecycle study would not just look at water but all environmental impacts. there are corporate environmental organizations pushing gas as a transitional fuel with no comparative lifecycle (i.e. not just burning but leaks along the pipeline and at the well pad) analysis conducted that they can point to showing it’s better than oil or coal.

ProPublica hasn’t looked into those organizations’ specious (and self-serving) claims despite knowing full well that the Sierra Club and the NRDC could be called on them by enterprising ‘independent’ journalists.

Why not?

Mike H. on Feb. 12th: “Conrad, nice try and all but…”

A seemingly condescending response, but I will take it as a request for greater detail.  Hence, I raise the stakes on calling BULL on you, Mr. Mike H.

In your response, you have once again clouded ProPublica’s assertion in finding innumerable cases of groundwater contamination related to gas drilling.  These reports and claims are available to the public and can easily be found with a bit of time and inclination. It would have been fruitless, however, for David Kopel to have done this research because the results would not support his employers’ assertions.

Instead, not only does Kopel ask state agencies a different and more specific question that he knows would elicit the answer he wanted, but he only chooses to call two states, Colorado and New Mexico.  He neglects to ask the states where the complaints on fracking have generated greater controversy and further scrutiny:  Wyoming, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

While it is true that, even in Wyoming, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, the evidence scientifically proving that fracking practices contaminate water quality is still inconclusive, this does not mean that there’s an absence of evidence that clearly points to fracking as the main suspect.  Such evidence requires further independent study, in which the oil and gas industry has been reluctant to participate, citing proprietary secrets as one of their many excuses.

Another often used excuse by the industry is the 2004 EPA study, which is now considered compromised, given the troubling data it found but largely ignored, and the recently discovered documentation of the gas industry’s key role in forming the study’s conclusions and recommendations.  And how quickly we forget the controversy at that time generated the Bush II Administration’s blatant actions to erode and neutralize the EPA’s powers and mission.

In anticipation of Mr. Mike H. practice of inferring deceitful purposes behind those who disagree with him…

My purpose here is to provide a voice for the mostly rural people and families who are now suffering the consequences of having a contaminated, even flammable, water supply.  In many cases, these folks are income poor but land rich, who saw a way out of their dilemma when a gas drilling company offered them a paltry and limited sum to buy unrestricted mineral rights to their property.  Now their previously pristine water comes out of their tap discolored, smells like rotten eggs, and can easily catch fire.  They look outside to see gas wells multiplying on their land wondering if the landscape is not the only thing turning ugly.  They might try to inspect these automated drilling sites on their property, but are met with “no trespassing” signs on tall chain link fences.

For years, these folks have submitted complaints and reports, but state officials and gas industry representatives have routinely dismissed their complaints.  Since the end of 2008, their complaints are finally being taken seriously, and thorough investigations are being conducted to examine their claims.  However, the gas industry remains powerful both politically and financially, and is doing everything it can to keep the status quo.

And I would not be surprised if Kopel is part of the gas industry’s effort in keeping the status quo.  David Kopel is essentially a lobbyist, not in name but certainly in action.  Instead of public officials, the target of his work is the general public, and his task is to shape public opinion to benefit his paying clients, in this case the gas drilling industry.  And I’m sure there’s a bonus if he manages to create the appearance of a grassroots campaign that supports fracking and tries to affect legislation beneficial to the gas industry.  It seems rather insidious, but that’s Kopel’s job.  He has his own family and bills to worry about.

The 2004 EPA fracking study had a specific whistleblower, Weston Wilson.

Wilson, an environmental engineer with the US Environmental Protection Agency revealed what went wrong with the 2004 EPA report on hydraulic fracturing of coal bed methane reservoirs. EPA scientists proved that there was a risk of benzene and other toxic chemicals migrating into ground water from drilling activities. But Wilson reported that heavy industry influence on the panel reviewing the report suppressed this data from the final report. The 2004 study is flawed. And it is those flawed findings that were used by congress to exempt the process of hydro-fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Google it. This information is readily available. And at that point the EPA was just testing the leaking of fracking chemicals into ground water, whereas the process also horribly affects the safety of air quality, as was just reported yesterday in the results of a study in Texas, which showed four times the allowable toxic chemicals in the air near gas fracking sites. What’s the solution to that? Raising the level of allowable toxic chemicals in the air?! Or shutting down a process that sickens people and makes homes and environments unlivable?

It might be time for those who support such a profoundly dangerous process as deep well hydro-fracking to just come out and admit that they care only about making money and not about the environment and the health of American citizens. At least then they would be being truthful, if not ethical.

Natural Gas Self Inflicted Crisis: Wrath of Depressed Prices and EPA
Market Update: Natural Gas Producers in Full Crisis Mode

Mr. Miller is a major supporter and advocate for the natural gas industry.

However, the monumental failure of the Natural Gas producers in the U.S. has exceeded comprehension. Over the past twenty (20) years, the natural gas producers have brought multiple self inflicted crisis upon themselves, which have punished shareholders severely.

Once again, the Natural Gas Industry has imploded bringing upon itself severely depressed prices, which continue to decline, they have “failed to manage their risk to include political and most importantly, environmental risk”.

It all starts with the failure of Executive Management and Boards of Directors of multiple natural gas producers to comprehend the operational, political and environmental risk they face. They also failed to comprehend the inevitable public backlash, particularly in the Eastern U.S. from the “Wildcat” mentality of unbridled drilling and operations.

To be clear, the U.S. Natural Gas producers are in full downward spiral and matters are going to get much worse before we can even begin to grapple with wholesale change in the Executive Management at the majority of the Producers and Pipeline Companies.

In on fell sweep, the industry managed to take what Mr. Miller and many other senior industry executives have worked decades to create; a stable political and environmental and financially stable natural gas industry, and turn it into the number one target of the EPA, Washington politicians, and more importantly, the general public.

Bottom Line: The U.S. Natural Gas Producers have brought long term and very serious problems upon themselves, their shareholders and the general public. The Sector is rated a “Sell” and we expect to see continued decline in wholesale prices, deterioration in credit quality, deterioration in cash flows, substantial environmental taxes imposed by the EPA/Federal Government, and outright banning of “fracking” in several Eastern States.

Posted by Karl W Miller at 8:17 PM

Labels: apc, chk, cvx, dvn, EOG, OXY, rrc, SWN, wmb, xom

reisen mittelmeer

Feb. 19, 2011, 10:17 p.m.

Week Turn,insurance display plan establishment real project danger terrible feeling neither press thus plan limit yes finally burn student select individual cause partner surprise estate grow day aircraft welfare present difficult set own comparison press ought if death below motor enable dress work owner well horse vehicle sheet belief ago too table growth gather competition term support wash important since sum once historical freedom firm each agency no dead through tape strike track north god repeat offer also record loan sexual except to decade southern machine they illustrate coffee

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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