The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has selected several potential sites across the country to study the effects of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) on drinking water and groundwater.

The agency said it hopes to have initial research results by the end of 2012, and to have an additional report completed in 2014. A panel of EPA scientists, the Science Advisory Board (SAB), will review the draft plan March 7-8.

The EPA identified five possible sites — where drinking water contamination has been reported and blamed on the hydrofracking process — for a retrospective case study. Those sites are located at Killdeer in Dunn County, ND; Wise and Denton counties, TX; Bradford and Susquehanna counties, PA; Wetzel County, WV, and Greene and Washington counties, PA; and Las Animas County, CO.

According to the draft proposal for the hydraulic fracturing study, the EPA plans to study three to five of the retrospective sites and complete most of its work in 2012.

All of the retrospective sites in Pennsylvania and West Virginia are above the Marcellus Shale play. Meanwhile, the North Dakota test site sits above the Bakken Shale play and the Texas sites are over Barnett Shale. The site in Colorado will test coalbed methane from the Raton Basin.

The EPA also plans to conduct testing at four case study sites to measure any impact on water from hydrofracking while it is performed. Water is to be analyzed during every stage of the hydrofracking process: acquisition, mixing with chemicals, actual hydrofracking work, flowback management and treatment of wastewater.

The four proposed case study sites are located in Greene County, PA; Laramie County, WY; the Flower Mound and Bartonville areas in southern Denton County, TX; and on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in ND. Those sites sit atop the Marcellus, Niobrara, Barnett and Bakken shale plays, respectively.

The draft proposal indicated that all four case study sites would be researched, with work scheduled to begin in mid-2011 and be completed in 12 months.

Richard Yost, a spokesman for the EPA, told NGI‘s Shale Daily that the SAB had asked the EPA to identify five to 10 total sites for analysis. He added that the final number of sites selected for each study would ultimately be determined by funding for the project and feedback from the SAB.

The EPA submitted a 140-page draft plan to the SAB on Feb. 8. The panel is composed of academic, environmental and industry experts (see Shale Daily, Feb. 9).

Plans to study the potential risks of hydrofracking were first announced by the EPA in March 2010. Environmentalists and some lawmakers assert that chemicals used in hydrofracking pose a public health risk, while producers insist that an objective study will show the practice to be safe (see Daily GPI, March 19, 2010).