EPA selects Colorado site as part of ongoing study of fracking impacts on drinking water

By David O. Williams
Real AspenJune 30, 2011
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently selected seven sites for its ongoing and congressionally mandated study of the potential impacts of the natural gas drilling process of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water supplies. One of those sites is in Las Animas County, Colorado.

The site in the Raton Basin of southern Colorado will be used in a retrospective case study, which will examine hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” impacts on drinking water in an area where drilling has already occurred. Four other sites – in North Dakota, Texas, and two in Pennsylvania — will be part of the retrospective study.

Two areas – in Pennsylvania and Louisiana – will be used as prospective case studies, in which the EPA will monitor the hydraulic fracturing process throughout the life of a well. There’s great anticipation building over the ongoing EPA study, which seeks to definitively answer key questions about whether or how fracking can contaminate groundwater.

Oil and gas industry officials maintain that fracking, in which water, sand and undisclosed chemicals are injected deep into gas wells to force open tight sand and rock formations and free up more gas, has been going on for decades without a documented case of groundwater contamination. Critics charge that’s because the industry has been allowed to keep the chemicals used in the process secret for proprietary reasons there’s no way of knowing for sure.

Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette has introduced a bill to mandate national public disclosure of fracking chemicals.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which oversees natural gas drilling and has rules on the books specifically addressing fracking, is currently undergoing an independent review of those regulations. State and industry officials admit that spills do occur when fracking fluids are being stored in pits for re-use, but say there’s no evidence of a frack job itself somehow tainting much shallower groundwater supplies with toxic chemicals.

“This is an important part of a process that will use the best science to help us better understand the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water,” Paul Anastas, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, said in a release.

“We’ve met with community members, state experts and industry and environmental leaders to choose these case studies. This is about using the best possible science to do what the American people expect the EPA to do: ensure that the health of their communities and families is protected.”

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