It’s important to keep delving into all documents concerning hydrofracking and New York state regulatory activities on permitting hydrofracking in the Marcellus shale.  (As far as I know, people only have access to a fraction of the existing, available documents, as I’ve bemoaned in the past.)

I’ve dug in and found an important example of circuitous logic, calling to question the wisdom of Congress’ exemption of hydrofracking from enforcement under the Safe Drinking Water Act (the exemption is discussed in more detail here), and which elected representatives, regulators and others  in NY State should carefully consider.

In examining  hydrofracking in the Marcellus shale, people often turn to the EPA 2004  report,  ”Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reservoirs.” It states in the  Executive Summary of this report (available here) that

Potentially hazardous chemicals may be introduced into USDWs (Underground Sources of Drinking Water) when fracturing fluids are used in operations targeting coal seams that lie within USDWs.

The report’s authors quickly go on to state that certain operating procedures and mechanisms affecting injected chemicals, for coalbed methane reservoirs at any rate,

minimize the possibility that chemicals included in the fracturing fluids would adversely affect USDWs .

Obviously this language was very carefully crafted, implying, but not stating directly, that there is no cause for concern. (I’ll address in the future some of the scientific/technical reasoning used to support this contention of “minimization,” which appears to not be based fully on sound application of fundamental principles.)

To buttress this implication that there’s no problem, the authors of the report inform us in the final paragraph of the Executive Summary that, regardless of any concerns people might have, there’s a major backstop in operation:

It is important to note that states with primary enforcement authority (primacy) for their UIC (Underground Injection Control) Programs implement and enforce their regulations, and have the authority under SDWA to place additional controls on any injection activities that may threaten USDWs.

But this state enforcement capability, and in fact all aspects (!) of UIC programs, federal or state, were eliminated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005  (here).

So, the 2004 EPA report says that, in the final analysis, people should not have concerns because there’s a UIC program serving as a backstop to prevent contamination of drinking water.  Congress, believing there’s no cause for concern, eliminated the backstop which in fact had been put forward by EPA as a major reason why there was no cause for concern.

This is not only circuitous, it is like a snake biting its own tail.  It’s important to recognize what has transpired here, and to make sure that the snake is a harmless garden snake, and get its tail out of its mouth.


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