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EPA Establishes Independent Advisory Board on Fracking Study

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) independent Science Advisory Board (SAB) has formed a Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory panel of independent experts to peer review the EPA's 2014 draft report of results for its national study on potential health and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. EPA said the SAB panel will provide scientific feedback on EPA's research in "an open and transparent manner."

Directed by Congress, the development of the draft report is in line with the Obama administration's focus on continuing to expand safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production.

The independent panel of 31 experts -- heavy on academia members and scientists -- are said to meet the SAB's criteria of having the necessary expertise and breadth of experience to adequately review the EPA fracking study on the potential impacts on drinking water resources, and meet long-standing rules regarding financial conflicts of interest.

As part of the public process the EPA will ask the SAB panel to specifically seek input from applied science practitioners in the field, because assuring the most up-to-date information on emerging science and technology of this rapidly changing industry is a critical component of the entire process.

In March 2010 the EPA announced plans to study the potential risks of fracking on water quality and public health. Environmentalists and some lawmakers contend that the chemicals used in fracking are a health risk, but producers said they were confident that the study, if conducted objectively, would show fracking to be safe (see Daily GPI, March 19, 2010).

Last summer the Battelle Memorial Institute, after reviewing a draft of the EPA study, said flaws in a study of potential impacts of fracking on drinking water supplies had to be addressed for the agency's final report to be credible. According to Battelle's 166-page review, which was requested by America's Natural Gas Alliance and the American Petroleum Institute, EPA's Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources is weakened by a lack of collaboration and transparency (see Shale Daily, July 11, 2012).

"Our final report on the potential impacts of fracking on drinking water resources must be based on sound science and take into account the latest practices being used by the industry," said Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe. "We have worked to ensure that the study process be open and transparent throughout, and the SAB panel is another example of our approach of openness and scientific rigor."

The SAB sought public nominations of nationally and internationally recognized scientists and engineers having experience and expertise related to fracking in an August 2012 Federal Register notice. The SAB panel is comprised of five current employees of companies and consulting firms; two government employees; and 21 academics/university professors (including some previously employed in industry).

The EPA said the panel has at least three experts in each of the following nine areas of expertise that were sought for the panel: petroleum/natural gas engineering; petroleum/natural gas well drilling; hydrology/hydrogeology; geology/geophysics; groundwater chemistry/geochemistry; toxicology/biology; statistics; civil engineering; and waste water and drinking water treatment. The SAB panel includes:

On May 7 and 8 the SAB panel plans to convene a meeting to provide individual feedback from panel members regarding EPA's 2012 progress report on the study. The public will also have the opportunity to provide comments for the panel's consideration.

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