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EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Study Report Update

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released its draft final assessment of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“HF”) on drinking water on June 4, 2015.  EPA found specific instances of above and below ground mechanisms by which HF has the potential to impact drinking water resources (“vulnerabilities”), including (i) spills of HF fluid and produced water, (ii) fracturing into underground drinking water sources and (iii) situations that may cause subsurface migration of liquids and gases, including frac hits.  Nevertheless, EPA did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the U.S., although it noted that the lack of evidence of impacts could simply be a reflection of a lack of data.

The Science Advisory Board (“SAB”) released its final recommendations for improving EPA’s HF study report on August 11, 2016, finding that EPA did not support quantitatively its conclusion about the lack of evidence for widespread, systemic impacts of HF on drinking water sources.  The SAB recommended that EPA provide additional quantitative analysis to support its conclusion.  In addition, the SAB recommended that EPA better characterize local impacts; address data limitations; improve its assessment of HF constituents of concern; describe best management practices at each stage of the HF water cycle; and adopt other measures to improve the transparency and clarity of the report.  The final report recommended that EPA include a discussion of the investigations in Dimock, Pavillion, and Parker County in its final study report.  Four members of the SAB issued a dissenting opinion stating that EPA’s statement on no evidence of widespread, systemic impacts was accurate, supportable and did not need to be changed or modified.  Following issuance of the SAB’s recommendations, House Democrats and environmental groups have sent letters to EPA urging the Agency to revise the draft HF study report to address the SAB’s concerns.

An EPA official has stated that the final HF study report is expected to be published by the end of 2016 following the Agency’s consideration of the SAB’s review and public comments.