On February 8, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) submitted its draft plan for its study on hydraulic fracturing to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (“SAB”) for review. As discussed previously on this blog, the study will focus on the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. In March 2010, EPA commenced preliminary work for the study, which has included convening public meetings and seeking information from gas companies – using both voluntary requests and subpoenas – about the specific chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process. According to the draft study plan, EPA intends to focus on the following research questions:
- How might large volume withdrawals from ground and surface water, to be used for hydraulic fracturing, impact drinking water resources?
- What are the possible impacts of releases of hydraulic fracturing fluids on drinking water resources?
- What are the possible impacts of the injection and fracking process on drinking water resources?
- What are the possible impacts of releases of flowback and produced water on drinking water resources?
- What are the possible impacts of inadequate treatment of hydraulic fracturing wastewaters on drinking water resources?
The draft plan will be reviewed by the SAB in a public meeting in Alexandria, VA on March 7-8 2011. Public comments will be heard during the meeting.
In New York, it has been reported by the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin that Joseph Martens, Acting Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Protection (“DEC”), indicated in a session before the state legislative budget committee on February 8 that DEC would not necessarily wait for the completion of EPA’s study before beginning to process applications to drill natural gas wells using hydraulic fracturing. Rather, review of applications would be triggered by the agency’s completion of its own study of hydraulic fracturing, to be set forth in a Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (“SGEIS”). As discussed previously on this blog, it is expected that a Revised Draft SGEIS will be released on June 1, 2011, and that the Final SGEIS will be released in the fall of 2011. However, Martens noted that DEC’s actual ability to process gas companies’ applications could be limited or delayed by staffing constraints if the number of applications is overwhelming.
Also on February 8, the Common Council of Buffalo, NY voted unanimously to ban any form of natural gas extraction, including hydraulic fracturing, within its borders. The measure is seen as symbolic, as no such drilling projects have been planned in Buffalo. Buffalo follows Pittsburgh, PA, which imposed a ban on natural gas drilling within city limits in November 2010. Other municipalities, such as Philadelphia and New York City, while not imposing drilling bans, have also called for limits on hydraulic fracturing.
 Flowback water is the water that has been injected into the well after it has served its purpose of fracturing the underground rock formation; this water flows back up the well and to the surface. Produced water is water originating underground that is released to the surface through the well.