EPA Offers Hints on Fracking's Future; 'Water Cycle' Will Be Big Part of Final Report

Article excerpt

Byline: Ben Wolfgang, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Obama administration has pulled back the curtain on its long-awaited study of the possible correlation between water pollution and fracking, but the full results and definitive findings of its far-reaching report won't be released until 2014.

The review, the most sweeping federal survey to date, likely will have major implications for the country's natural gas and oil boom spurred by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which has transformed the U.S. fuel market and is reshaping the global energy landscape.

The Environmental Protection Agency offered a progress report on its broad, multifaceted study, which includes data gathered from hundreds of natural gas and oil wells across the U.S.

The agency in 2010 was charged by Congress to examine fracking, which uses water, sand and chemical mixtures to crack underground rock and release previously inaccessible reserves of natural gas and other fuels.

The boom from fracking has transformed local economies in Pennsylvania, North Dakota and elsewhere, and it has put the nation on track to become energy-independent in a stunningly short period of time.

More jobs are being created. Imports are down. And more revenue is being sent to government. Continuation of this trend is vital to America's economic recovery and long-term prosperity, said Rayola Dougher, senior economic adviser with the American Petroleum Institute. However, the right government policies will be important to facilitating this.

The ongoing EPA study is set to become the cornerstone of future federal fracking policies, yet many congressional Republicans and oil and gas industry leaders remain leery of the science behind the government's probe.

The White House and several governors have come under increasing pressure from environmental groups to ban or greatly limit the practice, and some fear the EPA report will become justification for those steps.

In its progress report, the EPA explains how it is examining five major areas of the fracking water cycle. They are: the impact of large water withdrawals, necessary to perform fracking; the possible impacts of fracking fluid surface spills and how they would affect drinking-water resources; the implications of injection and fracturing process on drinking-water resources; how flowback - wastewater generated by fracking - could affect water supplies; and the possible effects of inadequate treatment of fracking wastewater. …