USGS Finds Unconventional Oil and Gas Production Not Currently Affecting Drinking Water Quality in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas

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A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows that unconventional oil and gas production in some areas of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas is not currently a significant source of methane or benzene to drinking water wells. These production areas include the Eagle Ford, Fayetteville, and Haynesville shale formations, which are some of the largest sources of natural gas in the country and have trillions of cubic feet of gas.

This is the first study in these areas to systematically determine the presence of benzene and methane in drinking water wells near unconventional oil and gas production areas in relation to the age of the groundwater.  Age-dating indicates groundwater in wells is often several thousand years old suggesting decades or longer may be needed to fully assess the effects of unconventional oil and gas production on the quality of groundwater used for drinking water.  For more information, see the USGS Technical Announcement.

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EPA Releases Final Hydraulic Fracturing Report on Impacts to Drinking Water Resources

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EPA has just released its final report entitled, “Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States.” The report concludes that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances and identifies factors that influence these impacts.  As part of the report, EPA identified conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe including:

  • Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources;
  • Spills during the management of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources;
  • Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources;
  • Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources;
  • Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water resources; and
  • Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.

A broad stakeholder engagement process helped to ensure that the final assessment report reflects current practices in hydraulic fracturing and uses all data and information available to the Agency. The report provides valuable information about potential vulnerabilities to drinking water resources, but was not designed to be a list of documented impacts.

For more information and to view the report, visit www.epa.gov/hfstudy.

 

SAB Completes Peer Review for EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Study

EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) has just published its peer review of the June 2015 “Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources.” The SAB peer review document recommends that EPA:  revise the major findings to provide clarity and adequacy of support for drawing national-level conclusions about the lack of evidence for widespread, systemic impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources; better recognize the importance of local level impacts; more clearly describe the probability, risk and relative significance of potential hydraulic fracturing-related failure mechanisms; compile toxicological information on constituents employed in hydraulic fracturing in a more inclusive manner; distinguish between hydraulic fracturing constituents injected into a well vs. constituents that come out of the well in produced fluids; and more.

EPA will use the SAB’s final comments and suggestions, along with scientific research papers and public comments received by the Agency, to revise and finalize the Assessment Report by the end of 2016.  To view the SAB Peer Review document, go HERE.

EPA Publishes Scientific Papers for Hydraulic Fracturing Study

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As part of EPA’s “Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources,” the Agency has now published over 25 peer-reviewed research papers.  EPA conducted this original, independent, and peer-reviewed research to address key study questions. These papers include analysis of existing data, case studies, laboratory and toxicity studies, and scenario evaluations.  Together, these technical reports and journal articles, along with over 950 publications from other sources, have informed the development of the Hydraulic Fracturing Assessment Study. Future papers will also be posted as they become available.  The Agency is currently waiting for the Science Advisory Board (SAB) to complete their peer review of the Agency’s June 2015 Draft Assessment and expects to finalize the Assessment Report by the end of 2016.  For more information and to view the scientific papers, visit EPA’s website.

Two New Alternative Water Supply Resources are Now Available

New Guidance for Direct Potable Reuse

A new guidance document, entitled Framework for Direct Potable Reuse, was published on September 14, 2015 by a National Water Research Institute (NWRI) Independent Advisory Panel.  The Framework document was developed to help state regulatory agencies and water utilities develop guidelines for safely converting wastewater into municipal drinking water through the emerging practice of direct potable reuse (DPR). It is the result of a collaborative effort between WateReuse, American Water Works Association, Water Environment Federation, and NWRI.

The Framework document includes information about costs, benefits, energy requirements, and comparative issues with other water sources and measures; and examines three key components of a DPR program that include regulatory considerations (e.g., measures to mitigate public health risks), technical issues related to the production of advanced treated water, and public support and outreach.  For more information and to download the report, go to:  www.watereuse.org.

GWPC Publishes Alternative Water Supplies Chapter in Groundwater Report

The Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) has published a new chapter (Section 11) on alternative water supplies as part of its Groundwater Report to the Nation…A Call to Action.  The 26 page document includes general information about climate variability and water scarcity; discusses options for using alternative water supplies; shares case studies; and recommends actions for legislation and regulatory programs, education, research, and resource planning.

The chapter includes case studies from Kansas, Oregon, Texas, Hawaii, and Colorado; and covers topics on saline groundwater resources and desalination; hydraulic fracturing impacts on water quantity; stormwater harvesting; aquifer storage and recovery; and water reuse.  Some of the recommended actions at the end of the document include:

  • Congress should support research and development of innovative water conservation and supply augmentation strategies, and fund groundwater-related information collection required to implement national initiatives and legislation (such as the SECURE Water Act).
  • States should consider changes to water laws and practices that allow flexibility for addressing drought or climate impacts, and options for using water recycling to meet competing demands and requirements.
  • States and local governments should implement new stormwater regulations and innovative technologies to address surface water quality problems and prevent contamination of groundwater.
  • EPA and states/tribes should examine and address problems that are preventing the use of aquifer storage and recovery and desalination technology.
  • Education programs should be developed to highlight the value of using alternative water supplies, and provide information to water planners on how to characterize alternative resources; select treatment technologies; and determine costs to produce, develop, and provide delivery infrastructure.
  • USGS and states should continue to develop brackish and saline water resource information.
  • The Bureau of Reclamation, EPA, DOE, and USGS should continue to support research on the benefits and obstacles for implementing wastewater reuse, as well as define and study effects of emerging contaminants on drinking water.
  • States should identify water requirements needed for future growth, and develop integrated growth and water supply impact scenarios.
  • All levels of government should evaluate current and future capacity for using alternative water resources as part of their water management planning process and provide funding to address management at the local level.

For more information on the Groundwater Report to the Nation and to read and download the chapter on alternative water supplies, visit the GWPC web site at: http://www.gwpc.org/ground-water-report-nation.

EPA Holds Webinar on Draft Hydraulic Fracturing Assessment Report

This week, EPA held a webinar on its draft study report entitled, “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing (HF) for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources.”  During the webinar, Stephen LeDuc of EPA’s Office of Research and Development presented background information about the draft report, as well as an overview of the report and findings.

The assessment is based on scientific literature reviews, research publications, and information provided by stakeholders.  The assessment identified vulnerabilities, but did not equate them to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water sources (and potential sources) from HF activities.  Contributing factors to vulnerabilities included inadequate well casing and construction, well proximity to drinking water resources, spills, inadequately treated wastewater, and insufficient data and information to make some conclusions.  The assessment also considered well water volume and use, which it found to be highly variable depending on well locations and characteristics.  EPA will use comments from the public and EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) to finalize the report.  The SAB plans to hold teleconferences on September 30 and October 1 and 19, and a panel meeting on October 28-30 as part of the peer review process for the draft assessment report.  For more information, visit the EPA web site at:  http://www2.epa.gov/hfstudy.

OIG Recommends EPA Action to Manage Potential Hydraulic Fracturing Impacts on Water Resources

On July 16, EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) published a report that shares findings from a review evaluating how the EPA and states use existing authorities to regulate the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water.  The report findings are based on a performance audit that included a literature review and interviews with EPA, states, and stakeholders.  This included OIG interviews at EPA Headquarters, three EPA regional offices (3, 6, and 8), and three states (Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Colorado).  During the interviews, OIG asked EPA and states questions about their respective programs that regulate the different stages of unconventional oil and gas development, ongoing initiatives to address potential impacts to water resources, practices observed from industry or implemented by the agency, and their views regarding gaps in regulations.  Based on the review findings, the OIG report recommends that:

  • The EPA Assistant Administrator for Water identify whether primacy states and tribes are issuing permits for the use of diesel fuels as required.
  • The EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance address any compliance issues related to issuing permits for hydraulic fracturing using diesel fuels.
  • The EPA Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention establish and publish a plan with milestone dates that outlines all steps for determining whether to propose a rule to obtain information concerning chemical substances and mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing.

EPA has adequately responded to the recommendations by either agreeing with them or proposing actions to address them.   For more information and for questions, please call the OIG public affairs office at 202-566-2391 or visit www.epa.gov/oig.  The full report is available at:  http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2015/20150716-15-P-0204.pdf.

USGS Report on Water Use for Hydraulic Fracturing

On June 30th, the US Geological Survey released new information about water use related to hydraulic fracturing.  The study reports that the amount of water used in the fracking process varies depending on location and type of well.  Water volumes for hydraulic fracturing averaged within watersheds across the United States range from as little as 2,600 gallons to as much as 9.7 million gallons per well.

According to the USGS press release, “From 2000 to 2014, median annual water volume estimates for hydraulic fracturing in horizontal wells had increased from about 177,000 gallons per oil and gas well to more than 4 million gallons per oil well and 5.1 million gallons per gas well.  Meanwhile, median water use in vertical and directional wells remained below 671,000 gallons per well.  For comparison, an Olympic-sized swimming pool holds about 660,000 gallons.”  Watersheds where the greatest amount of water was used for fracking include those in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi as well as those found in the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations covering parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York.

The USGS Report is entitled “Hydraulic fracturing water use variability in the United States and potential environmental implications,” and has been accepted for publication in Water Resources Research, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.  More information about this study and other USGS energy research can be found at the USGS Energy Resources Program.

EPA Releases Draft Assessment of Hydraulic Fracturing Impacts to Drinking Water Sources

On June 4, EPA released its “Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources.”  The assessment is based on EPA’s study and follows the water used for hydraulic fracturing from water acquisition, chemical mixing at the well pad site, well injection of fracking fluids, the collection of hydraulic fracturing wastewater (including flowback and produced water), and wastewater treatment and disposal.  State regulators, tribes, local communities, and industry can use the information in the assessment to identify the best ways to protect public health and their drinking water resources from hydraulic fracturing practices.

EPA’s assessment found some specific instances where well integrity and waste water management related to hydraulic fracturing activities impacted drinking water resources, but these numbers were relatively small compared to the large number of hydraulically fractured wells across the country. The report provides valuable information about potential vulnerabilities to drinking water resources, though some are not unique to hydraulic fracturing.

These vulnerabilities to drinking water resources include:

  • Water withdrawals in areas with low water availability;
  • Hydraulic fracturing conducted directly into formations containing drinking water resources;
  • Inadequately cased or cemented wells resulting in below ground migration of gases and liquids;
  • Inadequately treated wastewater discharged into drinking water resources; and
  • Spills of hydraulic fluids and hydraulic fracturing wastewater, including flowback and produced water.

The Federal Register Notice with information on the SAB review and how to comment on the draft assessment will be published on Friday June 5, 2015.  For a copy of the study, visit www.epa.gov/hfstudy.  To submit comments on the report, go to:  http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/fedrgstr_activites/HF%20Drinking%20Water%20Assessment?OpenDocument

U.S. Water Alliance Launches Webinar Series on Hydraulic Fracturing

The U.S. Water Alliance has launched a four-part webinar series entitled, “Hydraulic Fracturing: Beyond Name Calling to Real Environmental Protection,” that will be conducted over the next four months.  This series brings together experts in water, energy, and conservation to explore the most important issues and disclose the most successful steps to prevent problems through each stage of the shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing process, from locating an operation to site closure and restoration. The webinars won’t be “technical” but will involve presenters with technical expertise from industry, and regulatory, policy, and environmental NGO sectors.

The first webinar entitled, “Knowing Your Watershed and Assessing Potential Environmental, Economic, and Social Impacts,” was held on January 15.  Presenters provided an overview of water quantity and water quality issues including:  considerations for the value and cost of natural gas production and water supplies; the need for community engagement; and information about a new study that assesses water rights appropriations and water availability in the western states.

The next three webinars will be held as follows:

 

  • February 19: Transparency that Benefits All-Disclosing Fracturing Fluids and Operations
  • March 18: Practical Considerations for Management, Re-use, and Disposal of “Waste” Waters
  • April 16: Closure and Restoration: Final Considerations

 

For more information and to register, visit the U.S. Water Alliance web site HERE.