On Friday, December 21, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an initial progress report on its ongoing study to “better understand any potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.”  By way of background, in 2009 the House of Representatives by resolution requested that EPA conduct this study, which the agency then commenced in 2011.  EPA’s press release and an executive summary of its progress report can be found at the webpage for its study.  The Federal Register notice for EPA’s report can be found here.

EPA’s progress report provides updates on 18 different research projects that are part of EPA’s study.  These tasks are centered around five stages of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle, and EPA has associated each stage with a primary research question:

  • Water acquisition: What are the possible impacts of large volume water withdrawals from ground and surface waters on drinking water resources?
  • Chemical mixing: What are the possible impacts of hydraulic fracturing fluid surface spills on or near well pads on drinking water resources?
  • Well injection: What are the possible impacts of the injection and fracturing process on drinking water resources?
  • Flowback and produced water: What are the possible impacts of flowback and produced water (collectively referred to as “hydraulic fracturing wastewater”) surface spills on or near well pads on drinking water resources?
  • Wastewater treatment and waste disposal: What are the possible impacts of inadequate treatment of hydraulic fracturing wastewater on drinking water resources?

Styled a “Highly Influential Scientific Assessment,” EPA’s study will be subject to the highest level of peer review before it is released as a public document.  Although a full draft of the study is not expected to be released until 2014, EPA continues to request input from all stakeholders.