Tracking Fracking

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released draft Underground Injection Control (UIC) Class II permitting guidance for wells that use diesel fuels during hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Fracking is a way to obtain natural gas—a cleaner form of energy than fossil fuels—as well as oil. Flowback, or recovered fracturing fluids, is often disposed of by discharging it into surface water after it is treated at wastewater treatment facilities.

What the new draft permitting guidance means is that companies that use diesel fuel to frack must comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and UIC regulations. This is to “strengthen environmental protections consistent with existing law,” according to the EPA’s website. “Existing law” would be the operative words—companies that do not use diesel during fracking do not have to comply with the SDWA.

The EPA has taken a stand against flowback; in a 2002 draft report, it reported that nine fracking chemicals violated water quality standards, but this part was removed from the published report. In a published 2004 study, the EPA noted that flowback is likely to remain underground and “likely to be transported by groundwater supplies.”

As fracking becomes more common, there is growing concern about its potential impact on drinking water resources, the environment and public health. Will the benefits of fracking outweigh the risks? Are there other consequences we will not see for years? Please share your thoughts with me via e-mail.


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