Industry report says US EPA study of ‘fracking’ is flawed

10 July 2012 22:49  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--A two-year federal environmental study on the impact of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water supplies is flawed, lacks scientific and stakeholder balance and will not to be credible, US energy officials and a member of Congress said on Tuesday.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) and America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) released a study by the technical research firm Battelle Memorial Institute (BMI) charging that the federal study is based on sharply limited and possibly biased well data and fails the congressional mandate for a transparent and peer-reviewed approach.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in November 2011 its plan to study the water resources impact of the hydraulic fracturing drilling technique that is essential to development of vast new natural gas resources in deep shale rock formations across the US.

Hydraulic fracturing, generally known as “fracking”, is the process of injecting water, sand and chemical additives under high pressure into deep shale formations to free up natural gas.  It also is used in recovering previously inaccessible shale oil resources.

In combination with horizontal drilling, the fracking process has been instrumental in opening vast new US supplies of shale gas over the last ten years.

Those newly abundant reserves of shale gas have revolutionised the domestic US energy profile, and US petrochemical producers have called shale gas developments a feedstock breakthrough for the chemicals industry.

Continued access to new shale gas resources is critical to the US petrochemicals sector, which is heavily dependent on natgas as both a feedstock and an energy fuel.

The EPA said its research plan will look at the full cycle of water in fracking, from acquisition of water supplies, the mixing of chemicals and actual injection processes, as well as the management, treatment and disposal of flowback water.

The agency said in November last year that its plan for the fracking study had been reviewed by an independent scientific advisory board (SAB) to ensure “a scientifically sound approach”.

But the Battelle report raises several criticisms of the EPA plan, including “the limited and possibly statistically biased pool” from which fracking data were drawn, just two wells.

“Two prospective sites cannot deliver the range of data required for scientifically rigorous treatment of all the research questions”, the Battelle report said.

Battelle researchers noted that the congressional request for the EPA study specified that the agency’s inquiry be conducted through “a transparent, peer-reviewed process that will ensure the validity and accuracy of the data”.

In asking for the EPA study, Congress also required that EPA “consult with other federal agencies as well as appropriate state and interstate regulatory agencies”.

“EPA’s approach, in a number of areas, is not consistent with this congressional request,” Battelle said, nor is it “responsive to several EPA SAB recommendations, such as ‘developing a balanced and collaborative advisory group of stakeholders representing a broad range of perspectives and engaging with this stakeholder group throughout the research process’.”

API and ANGA have charged that the panel EPA established to conduct the fracking study has been heavily slanted toward the environmental and academic communities with little or no representation of hands-on energy industry specialists.

ANGA said the EPA study’s shortcomings identified by Battelle “must be addressed if the agency is to produce a credible evaluation”.

Congressman Andy Harris (Republican-Maryland), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee, said the Battelle analysis found “widespread problems with EPA’s study, design, implementation and quality control processes” and called on the agency to make corrections.

API said the Battelle analysis “finds deficiencies in the rigor, funding, focus and stakeholder inclusiveness” of the EPA study and urged EPA to incorporate Battelle’s recommendations.

The EPA study, said API, “has the potential to affect the future course of shale energy development, which has enormous potential for improving our energy security and economy for decades to come”.

The EPA has said it expects to have preliminary results of its fracking study sometime this year with a final report likely in 2014.

By: Joe Kamalick
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