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New EPA Draft Report Links Contaminants Found In Groundwater To Fracking

Steven Siros   By Steven M. Siros, Partner, Jenner & Block

On December 8, 2011, the United States Environmental Protection Agency ("U.S. EPA") issued a draft report noting a need for the collection of more baseline data, greater transparency on the chemical composition of fracking fluids and more care to be exercised with respect to well construction and testing.  The draft report was issued following U.S. EPA's November 9, 2011 release of the preliminary findings of an investigation it conducted near the town of Pavillion, Wyoming which found the presence of chemicals commonly used in fracking (benzene, naphthalene and diesel) in groundwater in the vicinity of 169 natural gas production wells.

Although the draft report recommends additional testing to determine the vertical and horizontal extent of the contamination, the draft report is important for its conclusion that fracking fluids are the likely source of the contamination of the Pavillion drinking water aquifer (after having ruled out agricultural chemicals as a potential contamination source). The draft report is already attracting significant attention. Senator James Inhofe has already gone on record criticizing the draft report, noting that "this announcement is part of President Obama's war on fossil fuels and his determination to shut down natural gas production.... It is irresponsible for EPA to release such an explosive announcement without objective peer review." On the other hand, environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council have lauded the report as an acknowledgement of its position that fracking poses a significant environmental threat.

Beginning on December 14, 2011, the draft report began a 45-day public comment period and a 30-day peer review process (although not the more heightened peer review that would be required if the draft report were considered a highly influential scientific study).

Water Pump and Well

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