As noted by Propublica on November 11, 2009  (here), Congress has asked EPA to revisit effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water supplies:

As part of the $32 billion Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill recently signed by President Barack Obama, lawmakers asked the EPA to revisit hydraulic fracturing, the process where copious amounts of water and sand mixed with toxic chemical additives are furiously pumped underground to break up gas-bearing rock thousands of feet below.

The bill urges the EPA to use a portion of the money to fund a scientifically robust and peer-reviewed study of the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water, “using a credible approach that relies on the best available science.”

This charge to EPA does not go nearly far enough.  The investigation should be far broader in scope, to include contamination of other media (air and soil), as well as a thorough evaluation of the state-of-the-art of hydraulic fracturing.  EPA is highly likely to farm this out, which might be OK if it is done properly by the right people, but farming such studies out to private firms is a tricky business.

Nevertheless, in all events, what is needed here, in a big way, is involvement of the National Academies.  Have they been asked about it? As stated on their website,

The National Academies perform an unparalleled public service by bringing together committees of experts in all areas of scientific and technological endeavor. These experts serve pro bono to address critical national issues and give advice to the federal government and the public.

This group can bring in the top scientists and engineers in the country to examine all this. Still, their charge should be carefully crafted so that they will know what sorts of experts to bring in. Simply bringing in gas and hydrology experts will be insufficient, for example. It will be important to include colloid and interface chemists, among others who can help understand what needs to be in fracking fluids (or not).


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