Energy policy — oil and gas: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pony up $1.9 million to study frac’ing

March 21, 2010

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Update: Here’s the release from the EPA:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will conduct a comprehensive research study to investigate the potential adverse impact that hydraulic fracturing may have on water quality and public health. 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 that vital resource. There are concerns that hydraulic fracturing may impact ground water and surface water quality in ways that threaten human health and the environment. To address these concerns and strengthen our clean energy future and in response to language inserted into the fiscal year 2010 Appropriations Act, EPA is re-allocating $1.9 million for this comprehensive, peer-reviewed study for FY10 and requesting funding for FY11 in the president’s budget proposal.

“Our research will be designed to answer questions about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on human health and the environment,” said Dr. Paul T. Anastas, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “The study will be conducted through a transparent, peer-reviewed process, with significant stakeholder input.”

EPA is in the very early stages of designing a hydraulic fracturing research program. The agency is proposing the process begin with (1) defining research questions and identifying data gaps; (2) conducting a robust process for stakeholder input and research prioritization; (3) with this input, developing a detailed study design that will undergo external peer-review, leading to (4) implementing the planned research studies.

To support this initial planning phase and guide the development of the study plan, the agency is seeking suggestions and comments from the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB)—an independent, external federal advisory committee. The agency has requested that the Environmental Engineering Committee (EEC) of the SAB evaluate and provide advice on EPA’s proposed approach. The agency will use this advice and extensive stakeholder input to guide the design of the study.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process that drills vertical and horizontal cracks underground that help withdraw gas, or oil, from coalbeds, shale and other geological formations. While each site is unique, in general, the process involves vertical and horizontal drilling, taking water from the ground, injecting fracturing fluids and sands into the formation, and withdrawing gas and separating and managing the leftover waters.

A federal register notice was issued March 18, announcing a SAB meeting April 7-8.

More information on hydraulic fracturing: http://www.epa.gov/ogwdw000/uic/wells_hydrofrac.html

More information on the SAB and the supporting documents: http://www.epa.gov/sab

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on Thursday that it is launching a probe into whether the procedure, known as hydraulic fracturing or “frac’ing,” is contaminating aquifers that supply drinking water. The study, expected to be finished by 2012, is to examine the industry’s effect on groundwater, surface water, human health and the environment generally…

“Our research will be designed to answer questions about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on human health and the environment,” said Dr. Paul T. Anastas, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “The study will be conducted through a transparent, peer-reviewed process, with significant stakeholder input.”[...]

The industry has long maintained that in the 60 or so years since the practice became common, there has not been a single documented case of water contamination attributed to the procedure. Critics of the industry, however, say no cases have been found because no one looked very hard, and because the practice has been exempted from the national Safe Drinking Water Act since 2005. The exemption came at about the same time that new techniques in drilling and frac’ing, as well as rising prices for natural gas, lead to a significant increase in drilling activity around the U.S., including Western Colorado.

The industry also has long maintained that the chemicals used in the formulation of “frac’ing fluids” are not actually secret, and that they are available on various websites, including the site maintained by the Garfield County Oil & Gas Liaison office (www.garfield-county.com, under “County Departments”). Industry critics, however, have been skeptical of that claim, arguing that the lists that are publicly available are not actually complete.

In Garfield County, Ron Galterio of the Battlement Concerned Citizens group called the announcement “welcome news” in light of the BCC’s “great concern about the hydraulic fracturing process, the many unknown and toxic chemicals used, and the long-term effects on ground water.”[...]

“Many opponents of hydraulic fracturing in Western Colorado suffer from 90/10 syndrome: 90 percent of their information is usually less than 10 percent accurate,” said David Ludlam of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “As a result,” he continued, “[we] look forward to working with the EPA demonstrating that technological breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing can continue to be safely applied as Western Colorado develops its tremendous natural gas reserves. An EPA data-driven analysis that results in fact-based decision-making; it might just be the inoculation our industry needs against an ongoing plague of misinformation.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


Energy policy — oil and gas: Garfield County Commissioners vote to oppose S. 1215, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act

November 10, 2009

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From the Grand Junction Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Garfield County commissioners voted 2–1 Monday in opposition to legislation proposed by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver. The bill would subject fracturing to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and require disclosure of chemicals used in the process. The vote disappointed several county residents who attended Monday’s commissioner meeting and fear fracturing could contaminate drinking water. But Commissioners Mike Samson and John Martin said the oil and gas industry is better off being regulated at the state level…

But fellow Commissioner Tresi Houpt, who also sits on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, questioned the contention that the bill would drive up costs. She added, “Why are we talking about costs? Why aren’t we talking about safety and health and welfare?”[...]

The Colorado Oil & Gas Association said in a news release that Garfield County joins Delta, Mesa, Moffat, Morgan, Rio Blanco, Washington, Weld and Yuma counties in opposing DeGette’s bill. The nine counties represent nearly 44 percent of the state’s gas production. By contrast, the two counties that have supported the legislation, Pitkin and San Miguel, are responsible for less than 1 percent of statewide production, the association says. Industry officials worry that the federal regulation could result in fees of up to $100,000 per well and in lengthy permitting delays that would harm domestic production…

The industry says there’s never been a documented case of fracturing contaminating groundwater. Rifle-area resident Jim Golden said he’s tired of hearing the argument that contamination is just anecdotal, and said Garfield commissioners have heard from plenty of people who are suffering as a result of drilling. “It’s absolutely horrible to have to stand up to our own local government to fight for your health and safety,” he told the commissioners…

[Commissioners Mike Samson and John Martin], both Republicans, won elections last November after benefiting from independent campaign expenditures from energy-related interests. For Samson, a newcomer to office, Monday was perhaps his most significant energy-related vote to date. All three commissioners said they heard from numerous constituents regarding the fracturing legislation, and county staff members told commissioners they received thousands of comments.

More coverage from the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson) via The Aspen Times. From the article:

Despite evidence of significant sentiment to the contrary among the electorate, two Garfield County commissioners voted this week to oppose federal legislation which would put the oil and gas industry partly under the control of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Commissioner Trési Houpt, the lone Democrat on the county board, said she supported what is known as the FRAC (for Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals) Act, introduced in both houses of Congress last summer. But Republican Commissioners John Martin and Mike Samson cast the deciding votes for a resolution that endorses a continued exemption for the gas drilling industry from the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act, which is administered by the EPA…

Residents in Colorado and other states, living near the drilling operations, have reported getting sick themselves, watching livestock die and experiencing everything from exploding domestic water wells to finding foul-smelling slicks covering nearby waterways — all of which they believe are related to the drilling activities and the chemicals used in the frac’ing process. The energy companies, however, argue that there have never been “documented” cases of groundwater contaminated by drilling rigs, and that the FRAC Act would cause regulatory delays and increased costs for their activities.

In a wide-ranging discussion before the vote, Martin and Samson framed their decision in terms of upholding states rights against unwanted federal interference, arguing that the state could regulate the industry better. At one point Martin said that the state’s right to regulate the state’s waters goes all the way back to an 18th century “navigable waters” law passed by an early Congress. “Do you want to have the federal government come in and tell you what’s going to happen?” he asked the crowd of 25 or so at the meeting, or should it be left to what he called “the local voice”? Samson, who represents voters on the western end of the county, submitted a resolution that essentially mimicked a resolution adopted on Sept. 11, 2009, by Club 20, a Western Slope business organization. The organization lists a number of well-known energy companies as its sponsors, and nine of its 22 member counties have come out against the FRAC Act…

Paul Light of the [Grand Valley Citizens Alliance], pointing to a recent poll indicating that a majority of the region’s voters favor increased regulation of the industry, added that “the real battle is [not between federal and state regulators, but] between the industry and the people trying to drink the water.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.


Energy policy — oil and gas: S. 1215, Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act

June 10, 2009

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Colson):

Two Colorado representatives, Diana DeGette, D-Denver, and Jared Polis, D-Boulder, joined with two East Coast lawmakers on Tuesday in a move to repeal a Bush administration exemption of the industry from following the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The group, which included two other Democratic representatives — Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Maurice Hinchey of New York — introduced legislation that would require oil and gas companies to disclose what chemicals are used in the controversial process. The two eastern lawmakers said they signed on to the bill because increased oil and gas exploration is taking place in their states. Known as the FRAC Act — short for Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act — the measure would be an amendment to the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to a message from Kristofer Eisenla of DeGette’s Washington, D.C., office.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


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