EPA to study water pollution from Marcellus shale drilling

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All the drilling, water withdrawals and water pollution associated with the rapid recent development of Marcellus shale gas in Pennsylvania and four other Appalachian states has attracted the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA announced today that it will conduct a comprehensive $1.9 million study to investigate "the potential adverse impact that hydraulic fracturing may have on water quality and public health."

The fracturing, or "fracking," is a process that injects millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals and sand into a gas well under great pressure to create horizontal and vertical cracks in the thick black shale lying 5,000 to 8,000 feet beneath three-quarters of Pennsylvania and parts of New York, Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia.

The fracking process releases the natural gas from the shale, but the EPA said there are concerns the process may degrade surface and ground water and pose a threat to human health and the environment.

The EPA is in the early stages of designing a hydraulic fracturing research program. Dr. Paul Anastas, assistant administrator of EPA's Office of Research and Development, said the research will be conducted in a "transparent, peer-reviewed process, with significant stakeholder input."

The Marcellus shale could hold as much as 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to supply the nation's gas needs for up to 15 years. The gas bonanza has resulted in a boom in well permitting and construction. Statewide, approximately 2,500 Marcellus shale gas well drilling permits were issued from 2007 through 2009 by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which projects another 5,000 permits will be issued this year.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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