EPA to develop standards for fracking wastewater discharge

[JURIST] The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] on Thursday announced plans to develop standards for the disposal of wastewater [press release] from the process of hydraulic fracturing [EPA backgrounder]. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped into the ground to create fractures in rocks, which allows trapped gas and oil to come to surface. Environmental and health concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing include contamination of ground water, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface and the potential mishandling of waste. Currently there is no comprehensive set of national regulations governing the disposal of wastewater from the fracking process. The EPA said that its plan to institute new regulations in this area falls in line with US President Barack Obama's Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future [text, PDF; official website]. The Blueprint calls for a three-part process for reducing American dependence on oil and to develop cleaner sources of energy: "safely and responsibly" develop domestic energy supplies, give consumers more choices to reduce costs and save energy, and develop clean energy technology. Specifically to fracking, the Blueprint offers three goals for responsibly developing natural gas extraction:

  • Disclosure of Fracking Chemicals: The Administration is calling on industry to be more transparent about the use of fracking chemicals.
  • Leading by Example: In April, DOI will hold a series of regional public meetings to discuss the potential for expanding shale gas production on Federal lands. These events will provide a forum to develop a framework for responsible production on public lands.
  • Research: The Federal government will conduct research to examine the impacts of fracking on water resources. At Congress' direction, EPA will continue with its study of fracturing impacts on drinking water and surface water, and DOE will likewise sponsor research on these issues.
Extraction of natural gas from shale formations has grown to 15 percent of the total US production of natural gas and this figure is expected to triple within the next decade. The EPA has stated that the goal of the new regulations is to protect Americans' health while at the same time ensuring access to important energy resources.

The recent growth in hydraulic fracturing technology for the extraction of natural gas from shale formations has been a controversial issue in the US. In June the New Jersey Legislature [official website] completely banned hydraulic fracturing [JURIST report], although it was largely just a symbolic gesture since New Jersey sits over a very small portion of shale gas. Earlier that month, the New York attorney general filed a complaint against the EPA for failing to study the impact of fracking [JURIST report]. Fracking has also been controversial internationally. In May, France's lower house, the National Assembly [official website, in French], approved a bill [TA Bill No. 658, materials, in French; JURIST report] to prohibit the drilling of gas and oil through hydraulic fracturing and to repeal hydraulic fracturing licenses granted to companies.

 

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