Focus is on Marcellus Shale in Major EPA Fracking Study

by Duane Nichols on June 24, 2011

US-EPA investigators are now set to study oil and gas shales across the country this summer, with a focus on the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.  The Marcellus shale will get the closet look, in three counties — Washington, in southwestern Pennsylvania and Susquehanna and Bradford, in the northcentral part of the state.

DeSoto County, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania’s Washington County will be the two locations where the process of fracking will be examined through the entire lifecycle of the well. Five other counties will be studied to see if drilling has had any effect on water supplies. The Bakken shale oil play counties of Killdeer and Dunn in North Dakota, as wells as counties in the Barnett and Raton Basin plays will be studied.

This investigation was ordered two years ago by Congress and is expected to show interim conclusions by the end of 2012, with final results in 2014. Industry  representatives testified in public hearings that it wanted a limited study focused on the direct impacts of hydraulic fracturing deep underground on water aquifers close to the surface. But after four public hearings in shale plays across the country, EPA said it would conduct a wider-ranging study to look at the effects on drinking water through the entire life-cycle of a horizontally drilled, hydraulically fractured shale gas or oil shale well.

A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) has been conducted in Garfield county, Colorado, to study the effects of shale gas development on the community, which showed a number of serious health concerns. Also, a Duke University study documented that some water samples from drinking wells taken closest to the gas wells had on average 17 times the methane levels detected in wells further from active drilling.  The Pennsylvania Department of Human Health has called for selected health monitoring and a state-wide database on health effects.

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