EPA Reviewing Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it has issued voluntary information requests to nine natural gas service companies regarding the process known as hydraulic fracturing. The data requested is integral to a broad scientific study now under way by EPA, which Congress in 2009 directed the agency to conduct to determine whether hydraulic fracturing has an impact on drinking water and the public health of Americans living in the vicinity of hydraulic fracturing wells.

In making the requests of the nine leading national and regional hydraulic fracturing service providers ? BJ Services, Complete Production Services, Halliburton, Key Energy Services, Patterson-UTI, RPC Inc., Schlumberger, Superior Well Services and Weatherford ? EPA is seeking information on the chemical composition of fluids used in the hydraulic fracturing process, data on the impacts of the chemicals on human health and the environment, standard operating procedures at their hydraulic fracturing sites and the locations of sites where fracturing has been conducted. This information will be used as the basis for gathering further detailed information on a representative selection of sites.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressures to extract oil and natural gas from underground rock formations. The process creates fractures in formations such as shale rock, allowing natural gas or oil to escape into the well and be recovered. During the past few years, the use of hydraulic fracturing has expanded across much of the country.

EPA announced in March that it will study the potential adverse impact that hydraulic fracturing may have on drinking water. To solicit input on the scope of the study, EPA is holding a series of public meetings in major oil and gas production regions to hear from citizens, independent experts and industry. The initial results of the study will be announced in late 2012. EPA will identify additional information for industry to provide ? including information on fluid disposal practices and geological features ? that will help EPA carry out the study.

EPA has requested the information be provided on a voluntary basis within 30 days, and has asked the companies to respond within seven days to inform the agency whether they will provide all of the information sought.

EPA is currently working with state and local governments who play an important role in overseeing and regulating fracturing operations and are at the forefront of protecting local air and water quality from adverse impacts.

View the letter on the voluntary information request: www.epa.gov/hydraulicfracturing.

Report Warns of Looming Water Crisis

Citing a looming freshwater crisis that could affect the nation?s economy, the livability of our communities and the health of our ecosystems, a diverse coalition of businesses, farmers, environmental not-for-profits and government agencies issued a landmark call to action aimed at heading off a national crisis in water quality and supply.

?Charting New Waters: A Call to Action to Address U.S. Freshwater Challenges,? is the culmination of an intensive two-year collaboration exploring solutions to U.S. freshwater challenges. It was presented to the Obama Administration at a meeting of federal agencies convened by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and released to the public during a forum at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

?There was broad consensus among participants that our current path will, unless changed, lead us to a national freshwater crisis in the foreseeable future,? the Call to Action reports. ?This reality encompasses a wide array of challenges ? that collectively amount to a tenuous trajectory for the future of the nation?s freshwater resources.?

The report identifies serious challenges to the quality and supply of freshwater, such as pollution and scarcity; competing urban, rural and ecosystem water needs; climate change; environmental and public health impacts; and a variety of economic implications. The document offers actions to confront these threats and a plan to ensure that our freshwater resources are secure for the 21st century.

While a great deal of progress has been made since landmark freshwater legislation in the 1970s, many freshwater challenges persist, the report says. It sees some as acute and obvious, such as severe droughts and broken water mains. Others are characterized as more subtle and chronic, building quietly over the years ? such as endocrine disrupting chemicals in rivers and drinking water and the slow but steady depletion of aquifers and declining snowpack in parts of the country.

The document is believed to be the first such comprehensive, cross-sector examination of U.S. freshwater challenges and solutions. It represents consensus recommendations of diverse interests convened by The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread in Racine, Wis.

Reliable freshwater supplies are an essential underpinning of U.S. economic security, with energy generation, manufacturing, food production and many activities of daily life dependent on access to freshwater, the report says. It notes that an estimated 41 percent of U.S. freshwater withdrawals are for thermoelectric power generation, primarily coal, nuclear and natural gas; 37 percent go toward irrigated agriculture.

The document proposes a series of shared actions across sectors to ensure sustainable and resilient freshwater resources so that we have the ability to absorb changes, sudden or otherwise, through flexible water management strategies.

The Call to Action?s recommendations include a range of freshwater management strategies to head off a potential crisis, such as streamlining and better coordinating fragmented governance among federal, state and local jurisdictions. Another key need identified in the report is modernizing our freshwater regulatory framework, developed in the 1970s to deal with the acute environmental issues of that era.

The report also calls for better accounting of the full cost of services delivered by municipal water and wastewater utilities and sharing this information with consumers. Revised pricing structures that more accurately reflect the full cost of services could be one step toward financing badly needed upgrades to U.S. water and wastewater systems.

The complete report can be found at www.johnsonfdn.org.

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