Questions and Answers about EPA's Hydraulic Fracturing Study

Frequently asked questions from the progress report webinar held in January 2013
Hydraulic Fracturing Study Progress Report
Background
Study Plan
Case Studies
Quality Assurance Process
Analysis of Existing Data
Environmental Justice

Frequently Asked Questions from the progress report webinar held in January 2013

Q: How did EPA select the oil and gas operators that are providing data for the study?

A: Prior to selection, the nine hydraulic fracturing service companies that responded to an information request provided a list of approximately 1,100 operators that together own roughly 25,000 oil and gas production wells that they hydraulically fractured during 2009-2010. Using the list of 25,000 wells, EPA selected nine operators using a stratified random process to represent diversity in both geography and operator size. From the wells associated with the nine operators, EPA randomly selected a subset that approximates the geographic diversity of wells hydraulically fractured in the continental U.S by the nine hydraulic fracturing service companies.

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Q: What information will the study provide about the identity and concentration of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids?

A: Appendix A of the Progress Report, released in December 2012, includes a list of over 1,000 unique chemicals reported to have been used in hydraulic fracturing fluids or detected in hydraulic fracturing wastewater. Sources of information include federal and state government documents, industry-provided data, and other reliable sources. In evaluating the sources, EPA considered whether reports relied upon a clear, scientific methodology and had verifiable original sources. (The complete list of sources for the information in Appendix A is available on page 245 of the report). EPA has limited information on the concentrations of chemicals being used in hydraulic fracturing and is currently reviewing these data.

In the draft assessment report, scheduled for late 2014, EPA plans to provide a table that outlines the known chemical, physical and toxicologicial properties of each chemical listed. If this information is not available from the literature, EPA will estimate properties based on the chemical structures.

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Q: How is EPA analyzing chemicals that are protected by confidential business information rules?

A: As part of the Toxicity Assessment, EPA is compiling available chemical, physical and toxicological properties for all of the chemicals reported to be in hydraulic fracturing fluids. EPA will then continue to work with the companies that provided information to determine how best to summarize the results of this effort so that Confidential Business Information (CBI) is protected while upholding the agency’s commitment to transparency.

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Q: How is EPA working with stakeholders, including industry, non-governmental organizations, and other state and federal agencies, to conduct the study?

A: Stakeholder input has played, and will continue to play, an important role in the hydraulic fracturing study. EPA has engaged stakeholders through technical workshops and roundtables, public webinars, and meetings and consultations. For more details please see “How has EPA engaged stakeholders as the study plan has progressed?

Specifically, as part of the Spills Database Analysis, EPA is reviewing databases created by agencies in the following ten states: Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Utah and North Dakota. EPA is also working closely with state agencies to conduct the Retrospective Case Studies. For the Source Apportionment Studies, EPA is working with several wastewater treatment facilities in Pennsylvania to obtain samples of raw and treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater.

EPA is reviewing and analyzing information about hydraulic fracturing provided by industry, including data from nine well operating companies (Well File Review) and nine service companies (Service Company Analysis). EPA is also meeting with the companies to assure that we have an accurate understanding of the information that has been provided. Additionally, EPA is cooperating with staff from FracFocus, an online registry developed by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and the Groundwater Protection Council, to extract and interpret information reported by oil and gas well operators.

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Q: Given the rapidly changing hydraulic fracturing practices, will the results of EPA’s study be relevant in the future?

A: To ensure that EPA is up-to-date on evolving hydraulic fracturing practices and technologies, the Agency requested relevant data and scientific literature to inform the study through a Federal Register notice. EPA is soliciting relevant information from experts and the public through ongoing stakeholder engagement activities. The agency is also conducting a comprehensive literature review to inform the research.

The results of EPA’s research will contribute to the state of knowledge on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. While the Agency acknowledges that some companies may adopt new technologies and practices in the future, others may continue to use current or older technologies and practices.

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Q: Will the study evaluate the potential impacts of underground waste injection?

A: No, the evaluation of the potential impacts of storing hydraulic fracturing wastewaters and flowback in underground injection wells is outside the scope of the study plan. (See chapter 13 of the study plan for a further discussion of this topic).

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Q: What is the current status of the prospective case studies?

A: EPA currently is working closely with industry partners to identify locations and develop research activities for prospective case studies. In prospective case studies, research at the site begins before hydraulic fracturing occurs, and then continues during and after hydraulic fracturing activities. EPA will announce the location of its prospective case studies once sites are selected.

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Hydraulic Fracturing Study Progress Report

Q: What does EPA plan to do with the information contained in the Progress Report?

A: EPA released the progress report to provide the public with the latest information on the work being undertaken as part of the Hydraulic Fracturing Research Study. The report outlines work currently underway and cannot be used to draw conclusions about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. A draft assessment report, expected in late 2014, will provide a synthesis of the data collected and will help inform Agency decision-making.

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Q: Why can’t this report be used to draw early conclusions about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources?

A: In order to answer EPA's study questions, we need to synthesize the results from all of the research projects undertaken as part of the study, which includes a thorough review of existing literature. The progress report explains what EPA has done to date, but does not provide the information or the synthesis necessary to draw conclusions or to answer the study questions.

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Q: Will the public have an opportunity to comment on this report?

A: In May 2013, the SAB provided an opportunity for the public to offer comments on the progress report for consideration by the individual panel members. The EPA plans to consider individual experts' comments, which will be informed by public comments, in the development of the draft assessment report that will undergo a formal SAB peer review. To view submitted comments and meeting materials, please click here.

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Q: Will this report undergo peer review?

A: As a Highly Influential Scientific Assessment, the report of results, a draft of which is expected in late 2014, will receive meaningful and timely peer review in accordance with EPA’s peer review handbook. In March 2013, the EPA's Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) formed an ad hoc panel of independent experts who provide periodic advice and review of EPA's hydraulic fracturing research, starting with a consultation to provide feedback on its 2012 Progress Report and concluding with a peer review of the draft assessment report. Upon the establishment of the SAB ad hoc panel, the EPA SAB Staff Office announced a meeting date in May 2013 to review the Progress Report and offer the public an opportunity to provide oral and written comment for consideration. The EPA plans to consider individual experts’ comments, which will be informed by public comment, in the development of the draft assessment report that will undergo a formal SAB peer review. For more information on the SAB process, please visit: http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabpeople.nsf/WebCommittees/BOARD

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Background

Q: Why is EPA doing this study?

A: Natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future and the process known as hydraulic fracturing is one way of accessing this vital resource. In its FY2010 Appropriations Committee Conference Report, Congress directed EPA to study the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water, using the best available science, independent sources of information, and to conduct the study in consultation with others using a transparent, peer-reviewed process. EPA announced in March 2010 that it would conduct a research study to investigate the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.

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Q: When will the study be completed?

A: A draft assessment report synthesizing research findings is expected to be released for public comment and peer review in late 2014.

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Q: Will the study look at potential effects on resources other than drinking water (air, ecosystems, fish, occupational risks, etc.)?

A: No, the current study focuses on potential impacts to drinking water resources. However, the study plan identifies important areas that merit further research, including potential impacts on air, ecosystems, occupational risks and other topics.

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Q: How frequently will EPA update the public on the progress of the research?

A: EPA is committed to updating the public as we make progress. EPA released a Progress Report on the study in December 2012. Updates on the study will be provided regularly in a variety of formats, including website updates, briefings via webinar, etc. 

EPA’s stakeholder roadmap outlines the plan to build upon the Agency’s commitment to transparency and stakeholder engagement during the development of the Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan, and will help inform the 2014 synthesis report. To learn more about how you can get involved please visit: http://www2.epa.gov/hfstudy/how-get-involved-epas-study-hydraulic-fracturing.

You can also sign-up to receive EPA’s hydraulic fracturing research email alerts.

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Q: How are drinking water resources defined in this study?

A: For this study, drinking water resources include any body of ground or surface water that could now or in the future be a source of public or private drinking water.

“Ground water” includes water found underground—usually in aquifers, which supply wells and springs. “Surface water” includes all water naturally open to the atmosphere, such as rivers, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, streams, impoundments, seas, estuaries, and so on.

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Q: How will the results of this study be used?

A: Results of the study can be used to inform the public and decision makers about potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources and support future research.

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Study Plan

Q: How has the research program changed since the publication of the Study Plan?

A: The EPA has modified some of the research projects since the publication of the Study Plan, including:

  • FracFocus Analysis: In 2011, a voluntary industry database for chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, called FracFocus, was made available online. The data are being analyzed to identify the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids as well as the geographic distribution of water and chemical use.
  • Prospective Case Studies: Due to scheduling conflicts, the location of a previously identified prospective case study is no longer being considered. The EPA continues to work with industry partners to identify locations and develop research activities for prospective case studies.
  • Chemical Prioritization: As part of the toxicity assessment, EPA planned to prioritize a subset of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing for future toxicity screening. However, based on the recommendations of the Science Advisory Board, the Agency will not conduct screening assays on a subset of chemicals, but will continue efforts to identify, evaluate, and prioritize existing toxicity data.
  • Reactions Between Hydraulic Fracturing Fluids and Shale: EPA decided to discontinue its work on the interactions between hydraulic fracturing fluids and various rock formations, as the research is already being conducted by the US Department of Energy.

For more details on changes to the research program, please see chapter 2 of the Progress Report.

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Q: How has EPA engaged stakeholders as the study plan has progressed?

A: Stakeholder input has played, and will continue to play, an important role in the hydraulic fracturing study. EPA has engaged stakeholders in the following ways:

Technical Workshops:  In the study’s technical workshops, subject-matter experts contribute to in-depth discussions and share expertise on technical topics relevant to the study.

In February and March 2011, EPA held four technical workshops on the following subjects integral to hydraulic fracturing: chemical and analytical methods, well construction and operations, fate and transport, and water resource management.

In spring and summer 2013, EPA held five technical workshops on the following subjects integral to hydraulic fracturing and the study plan: analytical chemical methods, well construction/operation and subsurface modeling, wastewater treatment and related modeling, water acquisition modeling, and case studies.

For each workshop, EPA selected between 40-50 technical experts from the oil and natural gas industry, water treatment industry, technology and energy companies, academia, consulting firms, laboratories, state and federal agencies, and environmental organizations to participate in the workshops. These workshops provided an opportunity for EPA scientist to interact with technical experts, as well as to inform EPA of current hydraulic fracturing technology and to identify related research.

Technical Roundtables:  In the study’s technical roundtables, subject-matter experts from a variety of stakeholder groups discuss the work underway to answer the key research questions of the study, and to identify possible topics for technical workshops. To identify roundtable participants, EPA consulted with industry, non-governmental organizations, states, and tribes to ask for potential invitees with technical expertise. The EPA then selected 15-20 invitees with appropriate technical backgrounds.

In November 2012, EPA held five technical roundtables on each stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle: water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, flowback and produced water, and wastewater treatment and waste disposal. In February 2103, the agency released a Technical Roundtable Summary Report that provides an overview of discussion, suggestions, and individual statements pertaining to the study.

In December 2013, EPA reconvened the study's technical roundtable. Subject-matter experts discussed the outcomes of the 2013 technical workshops, stakeholder engagement, and plans for the draft assessment report expected to be released for public comment and peer review in December 2014.

Public Webinars:

Following the drafting of the Study Plan, the Agency hosted a webinar for stakeholder groups and the public in February and March 2011. The webinar provided an overview of the purpose and development stages of the draft study plan, and an opportunity for public stakeholder input. Click here to see the webinar presentation slides.

Following the SAB peer review and finalization of the Study Plan in November 2011, the Agency hosted a public webinar to provide an overview of the final Study Plan. Click here to see the webinar presentation slides.

In February 2012, the Agency hosted a webinar to provide the public and stakeholder groups with an update on the status of the study and information on how EPA is ensuring the study’s scientific integrity. Click here to see the webinar presentation slides.

Following the November 2012 Technical Roundtables and the release of the Progress Report in December 2012, the Agency hosted public webinars that provided project-specific updates on research approaches and next steps. Separate, yet identical, webinars were held to reach as many stakeholder groups as possible, including: industry; environmental groups and non-governmental organizations; federal, state, local, and tribal representatives; and the general public. Over 1,000 individuals participated in the webinars. Click here to see the webinar presentation slides.

Following each 2013 Technical Workshop, the Agency hosted a public webinar that provided a summary of what subject-matter experts discussed. Click here to see the webinar presentations and workshop materials.

Following the 2013 Technical Roundtable, the Agency hosted a public webinar that provided a summary of what was discussed, including the outcomes of the 2013 Technical Workshops, stakeholder engagement, and plans for the draft assessment report. Click here to see the webinar presentation slides.

To view all past webinars, please click here.

Federal, State, and Tribal Partner Consultations: EPA held webinars with state partners in May 2010, with federal partners in June 2010, and with Indian Tribes in August 2010. The state webinar included representatives from 21 states as well as representatives from the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators, the Ground Water Protection Council, and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. The federal partners included the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Energy , the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Park Service. There were 36 registered guests for the tribal webinar representing 25 tribal governments. In addition, a meeting with the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force was held in August 2010 and included 20 guests from the Onondaga, Mohawk, Tuscarora, Cayuga, and Tonawanda Seneca Nations. The purpose of these consultations was to discuss the study scope, data gaps, opportunities for sharing data and conducting joint studies, and current policies and practices of protecting drinking water resources. 

Sector-Specific Meetings: EPA held webinars in June 2010 with representatives from industry and from non-governmental organizations to discuss the public engagement process, the scope of the study, coordination of data sharing, and other key issues. Overall, 176 individuals from various natural gas production and service companies and industry association participated in the webinars, as well as 64 individuals from non-governmental organizations.

Informational Public Meetings: EPA held public information meetings between July and September, 2010, in Fort Worth, Texas; Denver, Colorado; Canonsburg, Pennsylvania; and Binghamton, New York. At these meetings, EPA presented information on the Agency’s reasons for studying hydraulic fracturing, an overview of what the study might include, and how stakeholders can be involved. Participants could provide oral or written comments, and EPA particularly asked for input on the following questions: 

  • What should be EPA's highest priorities?
  • Where are the gaps in current knowledge?
  • Are there data and information EPA should know about?
  • Where do you recommend EPA conduct case studies?

Total attendance for all of the information public meetings exceeded 3,500, and over 700 verbal comments were heard. 

Other Opportunities to Comment: In addition to conducting the meetings listed above, EPA provided stakeholders with opportunities to submit electronic or written comments on the hydraulic fracturing study. EPA received over 5,000 comments, all of which were reviewed and taken into consideration in the draft and final study plan. You can view summaries of all the stakeholder meetings.

EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) reviewed the draft study plan beginning in March 2011. Four separate SAB meetings (two teleconferences and two face-to-face meetings) were open to the public and provided additional opportunities for the public to provide information and comment to inform the SAB's review of the study. The EPA released the final study plan November 1, 2011.

In March 2013, the EPA's Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) formed an ad hoc panel of independent experts who provide periodic advice and review of EPA's hydraulic fracturing research, starting with a consultation to provide feedback on its 2012 Progress Report and concluding with a peer review of the draft assessment report. Upon the establishment of the SAB ad hoc panel, the EPA SAB Staff Office announced a meeting date in May 2013 to review the Progress Report and offer the public an opportunity to provide oral and written comment for consideration. The EPA plans to consider individual experts’ comments, which will be informed by public comment, in the development of the draft assessment report that will undergo a formal SAB peer review. For more information on the SAB process, please visit: http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabpeople.nsf/WebCommittees/BOARD

In fall 2012, EPA published a Federal Register Notice, establishing a docket where stakeholders could submit relevant data and scientific literature to ensure that EPA is up-to-date on evolving industry practices and technologies. The submission deadline was extended from April to November 2013, to provide the public with more of an opportunity to provide feedback to the Agency. All submissions to the docket can be viewed here.

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Q: How is EPA working with other federal agencies?

A: In addition to the consultations with federal agencies, as part of the study’s research project on Subsurface Migration Modelling, EPA is working with the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to explore the potential for hydraulic fracturing fluids to move from the fractured zone to drinking water aquifers. For more information, please see chapter 4 of the Progress Report.

Furthermore, on April 13, 2012, EPA, the Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to develop a federal inter-agency program to provide results and technologies that support sound policy decisions by state and federal agencies responsible for ensuring development of energy sources while protecting human health and the environment. Under this agreement, which is broader than the scope of EPA’s current study on impacts to drinking water resources, each agency will focus on its area of core competency, collaborate on research topics as appropriate, and coordinate consistent annual resource planning. For more information about research areas covered see the MOU document (PDF).

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Q: How is the final study plan different from the draft study plan?

A: The core research questions and general study approach are the same in the final study plan as they were in the draft document. In the final study plan, we included more details about the research activities to improve the public’s understanding how we are carrying out the study.

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Q: Did EPA expand the scope of the study?

A: No, EPA has not expanded the scope of the hydraulic fracturing study. The core research questions and general study approach are the same as they were in the draft document.

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Q: Did EPA incorporate all of the Science Advisory Board’s (SAB) suggestions? If not, why not?

A: EPA appreciates the great effort made by the SAB to help improve EPA‘s hydraulic fracturing study plan.  EPA incorporated most of the SAB’s suggestions. We did not incorporate suggestions that concerned issues that are not uniquely relevant to the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, are under the purview of other government entities, or require work that exceeded the scope of the study.  You can view a table detailing EPA’s response to the SAB (PDF) . The table indicates where EPA incorporated individual suggestions, and where EPA did not, gives an explanation of why the suggestion was not incorporated.

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Q: What is the status of EPA's work?

A: Please see the Progress Report that was released in December 2012. The report describes the study’s progress as of September 2012, on each of the 18 research projects underway to answer the study’s research questions. You can also watch the public webinar on the Progress Report, held in January 2013, which provides project-specific updates that include research approach, status, and next steps.

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Q: What topics fall outside of this study’s scope?

A: EPA recognizes that the public has raised concerns about hydraulic fracturing that extend beyond the potential impacts on drinking water resources. Areas that fall outside of this study’s scope include, for instance: air impacts, ecological effects, seismic risks, specific health impacts, public safety, and occupational risks. For more information, see chapter 13 of the Final Study Plan.

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Q: Will EPA determine specific health effects of any impacts to drinking water?

A: The study will summarize existing data regarding the toxicity and potential human health effects associated with hydraulic fracturing-related chemicals. While the study may point to chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing that could be toxic to human health, it will not specify the health effects at different levels of exposure to a certain chemical, nor specify what the added health risk to the community might be. Results of the study could be used to support future research.

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Q: Will this study either assess existing regulations or recommend any new regulations?

A: No. This study is being conducted by EPA’s Office of Research and Development, the scientific research arm of EPA, and thus will neither assess current nor recommend any new regulations.

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Case Studies

Q: Why are we doing case studies as part of the overall study?

A: Case studies are important to help us understand what has actually happened at sites that have been hydraulically fractured. In its 2010 report, EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) emphasized the importance of EPA conducting 5-10 in-depth case studies to better understand the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources." EPA has responded to SAB's recommendation by identifying case studies that represent a range of regional and geological variability. The information we gather from these case studies will be part of an approach which includes literature review, collection of data and information from states, industry and communities, laboratory work and computer modeling. The combination of these materials will allow us to do a more comprehensive assessment of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.  Learn more about the case study locations and the criteria for selecting those locations.

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Q: Where is EPA conducting case studies and how were those sites chosen?

A: EPA has selected case studies that the Agency believes will provide the most useful information about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources under a variety of circumstances.

EPA currently is working closely with industry partners to identify locations and develop research activities for prospective case studies. EPA will announce the location of its prospective case studies once sites that meet the Agency’s scientific requirements are selected. 

EPA selected five retrospective case studies which will investigate reported drinking water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing operations at existing sites. The sites are located in:

• Bakken Shale - Kildeer, Dunn County, North Dakota 
• Barnett Shale - Wise County, Texas 
• Marcellus Shale - Bradford and Susquehanna Counties, Pennsylvania 
• Marcellus Shale - Washington County, Pennsylvania 
• Raton Basin – Las Animas and Huerfano Counties, Colorado 

The EPA identified, prioritized and selected the case studies based on a rigorous set of criteria and site visits by EPA scientists who will be conducting the research. Decision criteria included proximity of population and drinking water supplies, evidence of impaired water quality, health and environmental concerns and knowledge gaps that could be filled by the case study. Scientists prioritized sites based on geographic and geologic diversity, population at risk, site status (planned, active or completed), unique geological or hydrological features, characteristics of water resources, and land use. 

Background: EPA invited stakeholders nationwide to nominate potential case studies through informational public meetings and the submission of electronic or written comments. Of the 48 case studies nominated, EPA selected five for inclusion in the study. Learn more about the case study locations and the criteria for selecting those locations.

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Q. How will I know if my property is included in the study?

A. EPA will inform the owners of the properties selected to be part of the study in the coming months as schedules and workplans for each of the case studies are developed.

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Q. Will EPA provide a schedule for the work to be done at each of the case study locations?

A. EPA is working closely with local authorities, landowners, and other key stakeholders to determine when we can schedule access to sites that are included in the study. We are not able to provide a schedule at this time.

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Q. What if citizens want to volunteer a site/property for inclusion in the study?

A. An opportunity was provided for the public to nominate sites for inclusion in the study when EPA began work on developing the study. The formal process of identifying potential study sites is now closed, and the general locations of the case studies have been determined.

If you have specific concerns about an emergency event and spills or releases, please report them to the National Response Center (NRC) at 1-800-424-8802 or through the NRC online reporting form. To report what appears to you as a possible violation of environmental laws and regulations, please visit http://www2.epa.gov/enforcement/report-environmental-violations.  

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Q: What will EPA be measuring at the case study sites, and what do those measurements tell us?

A: Scientists will conduct two different types of case study: the retrospective case study and the prospective case study. In retrospective case studies, researchers will take field samples to identify the probable cause of reported drinking water contamination. In prospective case studies, scientists will conduct field sampling and monitoring to identify baseline conditions of the site prior to drilling and fracturing. Additionally, they will collect data during each step of the oil and gas drilling operation, including hydraulic fracturing of the formation and oil or gas production. This will allow scientists to monitor changes in drinking water resources as a result of hydraulic fracturing. See table H1 in Appendix H of the Study Plan to learn about the monitoring and measurement parameters used at case study sites.

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Q: What is a retrospective case study, and how does it contribute to the greater study?

A: Retrospective case studies occur at sites where hydraulic fracturing has already occurred, and where contamination of drinking water resources has been reported.

Goals: Researchers will first determine whether contamination has occurred. If it has, they will then identify the probable cause of contamination.

Contribution: Retrospective case studies may provide information about which, if any, specific geologic and hydraulic fracturing conditions could contribute to impacts on drinking water resources by hydraulic fracturing activities. This is important because the conditions under which hydraulic fracturing occurs at one site may vary widely from the conditions at another site, so that the potential for impacts on drinking water resources could also be different.

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Q: What is a prospective case study, and how does it contribute to the greater study?

A: In prospective case studies, research at the site begins before hydraulic fracturing occurs, and then continues during and after hydraulic fracturing activities.

Goals: Scientists will determine whether, during the limited period of the study, hydraulic fracturing activities led to any impacts to drinking water resources. The data will also be evaluated to consider the potential for impacts to arise after the study period.

Contribution: Because baseline data can be collected, clear comparisons can be made between the conditions of drinking water resources prior to and at all stages of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle, and for up to a year after hydraulic fracturing occurs. Collecting samples as hydraulic fracturing is occurring also provides the opportunity to more directly observe the behavior of hydraulic fracturing fluids in the environment throughout the fracturing lifecycle.

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Quality Assurance Process

Q: How will EPA ensure that the study design and the results are not biased in any way?

A: The study itself is being conducted according to the SAB reviewed study plan and is adhering to a rigorous application of the agency’s quality assurance principles. This approach will ensure that results generated are scientifically sound.

Furthermore, EPA has engaged multiple stakeholder groups in the planning process in an effort to ensure that the study is conducted in an unbiased and objective manner. These stakeholder groups include the public, industry, non-governmental organizations, federal, state, interstate, and tribal agencies.

The results of the study will be synthesized in a 2014 draft assessment report that will undergo a quality assurance review and a thorough peer review with a public comment process.

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Q: What is a quality assurance project plan?

A: A quality assurance project plan (QAPP) describes procedures that ensure that only valid data are generated and used in our study. QAPPs are internal scientifically deliberative documents that describe the methods and quality assurance protocols used in our study. It is an internal planning document prepared, reviewed, and approved by agency technical and quality assurance experts. The QAPP may be updated throughout a project to document changes needed to the initial approach based on results obtained or observations made during the study.

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Q: Are quality assurance project plans available for all parts of the study? 

A: Quality assurance project plans are developed for all parts of the study for which research has been initiated. They are dynamic documents. Based on early outcomes in individual research projects, we may need to modify our initial plans before moving on to next steps. In all instances, any such modifications will be completely within the bounds of the study plan, both substantially and geographically, and will be subject to the same review and approval process as the initial quality assurance project plan.

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Q: What is EPA's review process for quality assurance project plans?

A: Quality assurance project plans (QAPPs) for the hydraulic fracturing study are reviewed and approved by quality assurance managers, senior technical research leads and the study coordinator among others. These reviews help ensure the data generated will meet the research goals as stated in the study plan. QAPPs must be approved before work can begin. Any modified QAPP must be subjected to the same review and approval process as the initial plan.

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Q: Will EPA provide its quality assurance project plans for the hydraulic fracturing study to the public? 

A: Yes, the quality assurance project plans are available to view and print on our "Quality Assurance Project Plans for the Hydraulic Fracturing Study Plan" page.

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Q: How will EPA ensure unbiased results from the existing data analysis?

A: Analysis of existing data includes data from peer-reviewed literature, state and federal agencies, industry responses to information requests, and data obtained from various publically available databases. We will consider data that is submitted to us from a variety of sources, but will always give priority to that literature which is peer-reviewed. EPA rigorously adheres to Quality Assurance Guidelines, which qualify the source and reliability of the information analyzed.

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Analysis of Existing Data

Q: In the analysis of existing data, will EPA be considering recently published studies of the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources?

A: Yes, relevant, peer-reviewed studies will be considered in the report.

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Q: Is EPA incorporating ongoing ground water investigations, such as the ones in Pavillion, WY and Dimock, PA, into this study?

A: Ground water investigations are distinct from the retrospective and prospective case studies conducted as a part of this study, and so they cannot be used as case studies. EPA is applying the Agency’s assessment factors for evaluating the quality of all scientific and technical information considered in the Hydraulic Fracturing Study.

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Q: How can the public contribute information to the study?

A: In fall 2012, EPA published a Federal Register Notice, establishing a docket where stakeholders could submit relevant data and scientific literature to ensure that EPA is up-to-date on evolving industry practices and technologies. The submission deadline was extended from April to November 2013, to provide the public with more of an opportunity to provide feedback to the Agency. All submissions to the docket can be viewed here.

EPA is currently considering all submissions. Consistent with the Agency’s commitment to using the highest quality information in its scientific assessments, EPA prefers information that has been peer reviewed.

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Environmental Justice

Q: What is the status of the Environmental Justice screening?

A: During the study’s planning process, some stakeholders raised concerns about environmental justice and hydraulic fracturing, while others stated that hydraulic fracturing-related activities provide benefits to local communities.

The EPA attempted to conduct a screening to provide insight into whether hydraulic fracturing occurs more often near communities with environmental justice concerns. However, the Agency was not able to identify comprehensive, sufficient, and consistent data sources at the appropriate scale for an environmental justice analysis. Further research on environmental justice issues will not be completed as part of the study. For more information, please see chapter 2 of the Progress Report.

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