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Fracking Study Was Not 'Peer-Reviewed,' Editor Says

A study of data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that showed the percentage of wells with pollution events has declined, thanks at least in part to the state's regulation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), was not "peer-reviewed," as it was originally described, according to an editor's note issued since the study's release.

"This description may have given readers an incorrect impression," according to the note, which was added to a press release about the fracking study that was issued earlier this month by researchers at the University at Buffalo's (UB) Shale Resources and Society Institute (see Shale Daily, May 16). "The story has been edited to more accurately describe the process by which the report's authors gathered comments before finalizing their report."

Drafts of the report "were reviewed by several individuals with expertise in related areas [including Andrew Hunter, a lecturer at Cornell University's School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Brigham McCown, a former U.S. Department of Transportation executive and consultant with United Transportation Advisors; George Rusk, a regulatory specialist at Ecology and Environment Inc.; Scott Anderson, senior policy advisor with the Environmental Defense Fund's energy program; and Robert Jacobi, co-director of the Shale Resources and Society Institute and UB professor of geology], who provided comments to the authors," according to the editor's note.

The UB researchers concluded that fracking is becoming safer in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale, thanks at least in part to the state's regulation of the practice. In the study of 2,988 violations from nearly 4,000 natural gas wells processed by DEP between January 2008 and August 2011, a total of 1,844 (62%) of the violations were administrative and preventative in nature, while 1,144 (38%) were environmental in nature. The researchers found that the percentage of environmental violations (as opposed to polluting environmental events) in relation to the number of wells drilled declined from 58.2% in 2008 to 30.5% in 2010, and was down to 26.5% during the first eight months of 2011.

The results suggest that Pennsylvania's regulatory approach has been effective at maintaining a low probability of serious environmental events and in reducing the frequency of environmental violations, they said.

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