County selected for EPA study

BY LAURA LEGERE, Times-Shamrock Writer

A landmark federal study of oil and gas drilling’s potential impact on drinking water will use Susquehanna and Bradford counties as a case study, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.

The two counties at the center of Marcellus Shale drilling in Northeast Pennsylvania will be one among five case study regions where oil or gas wells have been hydraulically fractured and drinking water contamination has been reported. The others are in Washington County, North Dakota, Texas and Colorado.

The EPA is conducting a multiyear investigation of the possible link between groundwater contamination and fracking, the process of injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals underground to crack the rock and release the gas trapped there.

The agency also will use Washington County and a Louisiana parish above the Haynesville Shale as prospective case studies where the agency will seek to measure any impact from fracking as it happens. In those cases, the EPA will monitor the fracking process throughout the life cycle of a well .

The agency plans to release initial research results by the end of 2012. The EPA will begin field work in some of the case study regions this summer, the agency stated in a press release.

“We’ve met with community members, state experts and industry and environmental leaders to choose these case studies,” Paul Anastas, assistant administrator for EPA’s office of research and development, said. Case studies were selected from more than 40 nominated sites based on criteria including the proximity of water supplies to drilling, concerns about environmental impacts, and geographic and geologic diversity. Bradford and Susquehanna counties were selected so the agency can investigate contamination in groundwater and drinking water wells, suspected surface water contamination from a fracturing fluid spill and methane contamination in water wells, EPA officials said.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who recommended Pennsylvania sites for the study and has introduced several fracking-related bills in Congress, said the research will “help provide the science needed to assure that natural gas drilling is conducted in a safe and responsible manner.”