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EPA Releases Progress Report on Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources

EPA released an interim progress report today, December 21, 2012, regarding its much-anticipated study of potential impacts to drinking water resources from hydraulic fracturing. EPA’s multi-year study, at the behest of Congress, seeks to identify and understand potential impacts to drinking water associated with water withdrawals, the fate and transport of chemicals associated with fracking, and wastewater treatment and disposal as a result of fracking activities.

The process of “fracking” involves the injection of significant quantities of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to loosen and extract oil and gas reserves tightly held in deep bedrock shale and sand formations.

EPA’s progress report describes 18 research projects underway with updates through September 2012. The report, however, does not draw any conclusions about potential impacts to drinking water resources. As noted in EPA’s press release, “It is important to note that while this progress report outlines the framework for the final study, it does not draw conclusions about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, which will be made in the final study.”

In a busy week associated with developments on fracking, on Monday, December 17, the oil and gas industry filed a lawsuit to overturn the recent ban on fracking approved by citizens in the town of Longmont, Colorado. In the lawsuit, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (“COGA”) contends the City’s ban is illegal because it denies mineral owners the right to develop their property and blocks operations that state laws otherwise allow. COGA wants to overturn the City’s attempt at an end-run around state law permitting the practice. The State of Colorado and its Governor support the oil and gas industry’s efforts to overturn the ban but have not officially joined in the lawsuit.

On February 12, 2013, members of Spencer Fane’s Environmental Practice Group from the firm’s Denver, Kansas City, and St. Louis offices, addressed emerging developments in hydraulic fracturing and other related clean water and storm permitting issues in a complimentary webinar entitled “Navigating Uncertain Waters, Regulating Developments in Clean Water Act Enforcement, Stormwater Permitting, and Hydraulic Fracturing”. Click here to listen to the recording.