Questions and Answers about EPA's Hydraulic Fracturing Study
Hydraulic Fracturing Study Progress Report
- What does EPA plan to do with the information contained in the Progress Report?
- Why can’t this report be used to draw early conclusions about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources?
- Will the public have an opportunity to comment on this report?
- Will this report undergo peer review?
- Why is EPA doing this study?
- When will the study be completed?
- Will the study look at potential effects on resources other than drinking water (air, ecosystems, fish, occupational risks, etc.)?
- How frequently will EPA update the public on the progress of the research?
- How are drinking water resources defined in this study?
- How will the results of this study be used?
- How has the research program changed since the publication of the Study Plan?
- How has EPA engaged stakeholders as the study plan has been developed?
- How is EPA working with other federal agencies?
- How is the final study plan different from the draft study plan?
- Did EPA expand the scope of the study?
- Did EPA incorporate all of the Science Advisory Board’s (SAB) suggestions? If not, why not?
- What is the status of EPA's work?
- What topics fall outside of this study’s scope?
- Will EPA determine specific health effects of any impacts to drinking water?
- Will this study either assess existing regulations or recommend any new regulations?
- Why are we doing case studies as part of the overall study?
- Where is EPA conducting case studies and how were those sites chosen?
- How will I know if my property is included in the study?
- Will EPA provide a schedule for the work to be done at each of the case study locations?
- What if citizens want to volunteer a site/property for inclusion in the study?
- What will EPA be measuring at the case study sites, and what do those measurements tell us?
- What is a retrospective case study, and how does it contribute to the greater study?
- What is a prospective case study, and how does it contribute to the greater study?
Quality Assurance Process
- How will EPA ensure that the study design and the results are not biased in any way?
- What is a quality assurance project plan (QAPP)?
- Are quality assurance project plans available for all parts of the study?
- What is EPA's review process for QAPPs?
- Will EPA provide its QAPPs for the hydraulic fracturing study to the public?
- How will EPA ensure unbiased results from the existing data analysis?
Analysis of Existing Data
- In the analysis of existing data, will EPA be considering recently published studies of the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources?
- Is EPA incorporating ongoing ground water investigations, such as the ones in Pavillion, WY and Dimock, PA, into this study?
- How can the public contribute information to the study?
Hydraulic Fracturing Study Progress Report
A: EPA is releasing this 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 report of results, expected in late 2014, will provide a synthesis of the data collected and will help inform Agency decision-making.
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.
A: The SAB will provide an opportunity for the public to offer comments for consideration by the individual panel members. For more information on the SAB process, please visit: http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabpeople.nsf/WebCommittees/BOARD
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. The EPA's Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) is forming an ad hoc panel of independent experts who will 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 report of results. Upon the establishment of the SAB ad hoc panel, the EPA SAB Staff Office will announce the meeting date to review the 2012 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 report of results 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
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. Serious concerns have been raised by citizens and their representatives about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water, human health and the environment. These concerns demand further study. 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.
Additionally, natural gas from hard-to-extract sources, called “unconventional” sources (such as shale), is expected to account for a growing fraction of natural gas supplies. Water is used throughout the extraction process and anecdotal evidence indicates potential adverse impacts on drinking water resources. This study is intended both to provide data where there is a lack of adequate information and to contribute to resolving scientific uncertainties.
A: A final draft report synthesizing research findings is expected to be released for public comment and peer review in late 2014.
A: No, the current study focuses on potential impacts to drinking water resources. However, the draft study plan identifies important areas that merit further research, including potential impacts on air, ecosystems, occupational risks and other topics.
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 web 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.
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.
A: The report of results will answer the primary research questions through a synthesis of available results from the study’s research projects, scientific literature related to the study, and knowledge gained through technical stakeholder engagement.
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 potential future work to quantify risks.
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.
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 is hosting 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 summer 2013, the Agency will host a technical roundtable to discuss the outcomes of the 2013 technical workshops.
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.
EPA will host public webinars in spring and summer 2013 to summarize the 2013 technical workshops and roundtables.
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.
As research progresses, EPA has requested any information relevant to the study through a federal register notice. EPA is also is updating interested parties through a variety of formats, including web updates, briefings via webinar, etc. You can also sign-up to receive EPA’s hydraulic fracturing research email alerts.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 potential future work to quantify risks.
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.
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 seven 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 a particular site selected for the study, or have concerns about another property, please contact the tip line at 1-877-919-4372 (toll free), or email email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
Quality Assurance Process
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 report that will undergo a quality assurance review and a thorough peer review with a public comment process.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Analysis of Existing Data
A: Yes, relevant, peer-reviewed studies will be considered in the report.
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. However, ground water investigations such as these will be considered in this study’s analysis of existing data, once they have undergone peer review.
A:EPA is accepting information through April 30, 2013, including data, studies, scientific analyses, and other pertinent scientific information. Consistent with the Agency’s commitment to using the highest quality information in its scientific assessments, EPA prefers that people submit information that has been peer reviewed. EPA will consider all submissions, but will give preference to peer reviewed data and literature sources.
There are several ways to submit information to the docket for this request. Be sure to include the docket identification number Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-ORD-2010-0674 on every submission.
EPA's policy is that all information received will be included in the public docket without change and available online at www.regulations.gov and in hard copy at the EPA Docket Center, EPA West Building, Room 3334, 1301 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC. Additional information can be found in the Federal Register Notice.
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.