Friday, June 24, 2011

EPA Focuses on Marcellus For Welcome, Important Hydrofracturing Study

The Marcellus Shale will be a focus for the EPA congressionally mandated assessment of potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing.  Three of 7 studies done in the nation will be conducted in Pennsylvania or the Marcellus Shale.

The EPA study is a good thing, and the EPA is conducting it in a professional, independent manner, while listening to all involved.

Among a total of 7 case studies, EPA will conduct 2 retrospective case studies in Pennsylvania:  one in Susquehanna and Bradford counties and the other in Washington county. 

Retrospective studies will look for impacts where drilling has taken place.

In Washington county, the EPA will conduct also a prospective case study, looking at the well development process as it takes place and assessing impacts.

Gas migration to private water wells and other waters as a result of poor drilling has taken place in Bradford and Susquehanna counties.  The gas that migrated at least in the Susquehanna county cases was not Marcellus gas but shallower gas that was not properly isolated in the drilling process.

Some spills and leaks at the surface have also impacted a small number of private water wells in southwest Pennsylvania.

No case of frack fluids migrating from depth (typically 5,000 feet to 8,000 feet) back to groundwaters has taken place in Pennsylvania.  Moreover EPA Administrator Jackson testified to Congress in May that no such case has taken place anywhere in America.

Here is the list of the 7 case studies:

Prospective Studies

Haynesville Shale--DeSoto County, LA
Marcellus Shale--Washington County, PA

Retrospective Studies

Bakken Shale--Kildeer, Dunn County, ND
Barnett Shale--Wise and Denton counties, TX
Marcellus Shale--Washington County, PA
Marcellus Shale--Bradford and Susquehanna counties, PA
Raton Basin--Las Animas County, CO

EPA selected these 7 sites for study from a list of over 40 possible study sites. 

The Duke University study also selected water wells in Bradford and Susquehanna counties where the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has done extensive testing.  See blog post on the Duke study in the May Archives of this blog.

For more information about the EPA study, go to


  1. Concerned ScientistJune 26, 2011 at 4:57 PM

    I am less optimistic about the involvement of the EPA. I am very much for strong regulation of shale gas drilling. PA is doing a good job and NY would do a good job if drilling were allowed. I mean, what is the EPA going to find out that the PADEP or the NYSDEC has not already figured out? They are playing catch up on an issue that the professionals in these states already have worked on for years or even decades. Coming into the study, many of the people at the EPA were probably figuring that there had to be SOMETHING to the claims coming out in Gasland, the Propublica articles and the NY Times. So they are going to have to unlearn things that they thought were true. Imagine their surprise when they learn that many of the alleged problems are not real. There is going to be a lot of pressure on them to help save face for the politicians, journalists, and environmental groups who got it wrong and whom they normally would ally themselves with.

  2. As always you make good points. Congress mandated the study; it was not EPA's idea. Lisa Jackson has testified in May that the EPA does not have one case of frack fluids returning from depth to contaminate ground water. I think these two factors provide reason to think EPA will do a professional, independent study. I also think a good professional study can debunk the demagoguery and focus attention on real issues like gas migration and spills/leaks at the surface. Hopefully my hopes will not be dashed.

  3. This is what Lisa Jackson said in a bit more context:

    Congressional Question: "Is there any evidence that fracking can effect aquifers and water supplies?"

    EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s response: "There is evidence that it can certainly affect them. I am not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has effected water, although there are investigations ongoing."