The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released its draft final assessment of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“HF”) on drinking water on June 4. EPA also published nine peer-reviewed papers on different aspects of research associated with the study, including reviews of data concerning HF-related spills and well design and construction, case studies of HF operations involving various types of alleged impacts to drinking water resources, inorganic pollutants in drinking water intakes and the impacts of water acquisition. In mid-July, EPA released a supporting draft database containing information on HF-related chemicals listed in the draft assessment. The Science Advisory Board (“SAB”) will conduct a peer review of the assessment during a series of teleconferences and meetings this fall. The SAB indicated in a June 5 Federal Register notice that written comments on the draft report were to be submitted in advance of the SAB review by August 28 and that oral public comments will be heard during the teleconferences and meetings.
EPA found specific instances of above and below ground mechanisms by which HF has the potential to impact drinking water resources (“vulnerabilities”), including (i) spills of HF fluid and produced water, (ii) fracturing into underground drinking water sources and (iii) situations that may cause subsurface migration of liquids and gases, including frac hits. Nevertheless, EPA did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the U.S., although it noted that the lack of evidence of impacts could simply be a reflection of a lack of data. EPA intends the draft final assessment to be a report on the state of the science that could be used by regulators, industry and the public to better understand and address any vulnerabilities of drinking water resources from HF activities. Therefore the results of the study could lay the foundation for additional federal and state HF regulation and also influence forthcoming rulemakings and legislation in other jurisdictions around the world. The draft final assessment is already being used by both industry and environmental groups to support differing positions on the risks associated with HF.
Timing – The SAB will hold teleconferences on September 30, October 1, and October 19 and an in-person meeting on October 28-30. A final report is expected to be published in 2016 following consideration of the SAB’s review and public comments.