EPA announced a few days ago that its Draft Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources is ready for review (available here as a pdf file). I’m hoping to find time to drill down into it, but so far I’m finding it looks quite good, as far as it goes. But it clearly does not go far enough (which is not EPA’s fault), as I discuss below.
As they state in the Executive Summary of this document
Congress directed the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct research to examine the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources.
And therein lies the rub. Of course, drinking water sources are an important concern, but many aspects of pollution are multimedia in nature. Compounds move around between water, air and soil. Obviously, there are many concerns regarding air pollution that absolutely must be considered with respect to hydrofracking: after all, the whole purpose here is to release gases from the subsurface. It would be naive to suggest that all the released gases could be captured, and just as naive to assume there would be no potential impacts to closely examine.
The draft document makes it clear that EPA understands this factor, stating in the Executive Summary that
EPA recognizes that there are important potential research areas related to hydraulic fracturing other than those involving drinking water resources, including effects on air quality, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem impacts, seismic risks, public safety concerns, occupational risks, and economic impacts. These topics are outside the scope of the current study, but should be examined in the future.
The oil and gas lobby would do well to jump in and lobby to inject these multimedia concerns into the scientific and engineering study. They will only have themselves to blame later if they cause air pollution problems and are called on the carpet as a result. Severe rug burns may result.