EPA schedules development of fracking standards

TRENTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today a timeline for the development of uniform standards for natural gas extraction and for wastewater associated with the extraction technique called fracking, hydraulic fracturing.

“The president has made clear that natural gas has a central role to play in our energy economy,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a release today. “That is why we are taking steps – in coordination with our federal partners and informed by the input of industry experts, states and public health organizations – to make sure the needs of our energy future are met safely and responsibly.

According to the EPA, recent technology and operational improvements in extracting natural gas resources – particularly shale gas, which is found in local reservoirs, for instance, under the Delaware River – have increased gas drilling activities across the country. Production from shale formations has grown from a negligible amount just a few years ago to almost 15 percent of total U.S. natural gas production and, according to the EPA, is expected to triple in the coming decades.

Counted as positives associated with the blossoming industry, the EPA touted improved national energy security and job creation. But detractors are gravely concerned with the environmental impacts, specifically with the trade-secret chemical lubricants pumped into the riverbed during fracturing. To this end, the EPA said they expect to come up with standards that can “leverage these resources safely and responsibly, including understanding any potential impact on water resources.”

For Shale Gas Standards: “Currently, wastewater associated with shale gas extraction is prohibited from being directly discharged to waterways and other waters of the U.S. While some of the wastewater from shale gas extraction is reused or re-injected, a significant amount still requires disposal. As a result, some shale gas wastewater is transported to treatment plants, many of which are not properly equipped to treat this type of wastewater. EPA will consider standards based on demonstrated, economically achievable technologies, for shale gas wastewater that must be met before going to a treatment facility.”

For Coalbed Methane Standards: “Wastewater associated with coalbed methane extraction is not currently subject to national standards for being directly discharged into waterways and for pre-treatment standards. Its regulation is left to individual states. For coalbed methane, EPA will be considering uniform national standards based on economically achievable technologies.”

Also from the press release: “Information reviewed by EPA, including state supplied wastewater sampling data, have documented elevated levels of pollutants entering surface waters as a result of inadequate treatment at facilities. To ensure that these wastewaters receive proper treatment and can be properly handled by treatment plants, EPA will gather data, consult with stakeholders, including ongoing consultation with industry, and solicit public comment on a proposed rule for coalbed methane in 2013 and a proposed rule for shale gas in 2014.”

The schedule for coalbed methane standards is shorter because the EPA has already gathered extensive data and information in this area. The agency will take the additional time to gather comparable data on shale gas.

“We can protect the health of American families and communities at the same time we ensure access to all of the important resources that make up our energy economy,” Jackson said. “The American people expect and deserve nothing less.”

Earlier story:

Enviros ask Christie for deciding vote on Delaware River fracking ban

  EPA schedules development of fracking standards