FAQ: ‘Fracking Regulations

A. The fracking industry is regulated by each individual state, with a limited amount of federal oversight.

A. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) does not regulate fracking per se. Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the injection of fracking fluids is not regulated by the EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act unless diesel fuel is being injected.

However, the EPA’s Office of Water is allowed to regulate the waste disposal of flowback. Disposal of flowback into interstate surface waters is regulated under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

The NPDES regulates and issues permits to companies discharging pollutants into U.S. waters through industrial, municipal ditches and pipes and other such point sources. The states themselves have varying levels of authority to administer the NPDES. For example, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are only partially authorized.** Colorado has an approved NPDES permit program but does not have its own federally approved state pretreatment program or an NPDES approved biosoils (sludge) pretreatment program for releasing fluids into surface waters.

A. The EPA has stated it is interested in fracking because its use is becoming more prevalent. This is due to many factors including advances in horizontal drilling technologies and new fluid formulations that improve economics, and new access to different formations (shale, coalbeds, tight sands). The EPA is taking a hard look at fracking because “unconventional” gas, which is what most fracking is performed to reach, is perceived to represent a significant future domestic energy source. So, fracking isn’t going away anytime soon!

Because fracking has become so prevalent, the EPA wants to investigate the potential for endangerment of water supplies. The EPA wants to understand the impact of fracking on the many new and different geographic and geologic settings that are being approached. Formations adjacent to fracking sites may contain metals, radionuclides, salts, or other constituents that may be mobilized and impact water quality without careful procedures. The EPA wants to ensure that fracking chemicals, water, wastes and residuals from this type of drilling do not impose risks to public health, water resources or the environment.

A. The US House of Representatives requested that the EPA conduct scientific research to examine the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources (USHR, 2009). The study began in 2011 and with its efforts the EPA is working to better characterize the amounts and sources of water currently being used for hydraulic fracturing operations, including recycled water, and how these withdrawals may impact local drinking water quality and availability.

A. The EPA is looking at the following areas of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.

• Water acquisition: What are the possible impacts of large volume water withdrawals from ground and surface waters on drinking water resources?
• Chemical mixing: What are the possible impacts of hydraulic fracturing fluid surface spills on or near well pads on drinking water resources?
• Well injection: What are the possible impacts of the injection and fracturing process on drinking water resources?
• Flowback and produced water: What are the possible impacts of flowback and produced water (collectively referred to as “hydraulic fracturing wastewater”) surface spills on or near well pads on drinking water resources?
• Wastewater treatment and waste disposal: What are the possible impacts of inadequate treatment of hydraulic fracturing wastewater on drinking water resources?

A. STRONGER, is an acronym for State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations. STRONGER was formed in 1999 to reinvigorate and carry forward the state review process begun cooperatively in 1988 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC).

STRONGER is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization whose purpose is to assist states in documenting the environmental regulations associated with the exploration, development and production of crude oil and natural gas. STRONGER shares innovative techniques and environmental protection strategies and identifies opportunities for program improvement. The state review process is a non-regulatory program and relies on states to volunteer for reviews.

U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy have provided grant funding to STRONGER to support its activities. The American Petroleum Institute has also provided no-strings attached funding to support the state review process. STRONGER invites participation in the state review process. They seek volunteers from both states and interested citizens. They also invite inquiries about the process and the concepts of direct evaluation of environmental regulatory performance.