EPA offers glimpse into ongoing review of fracking’s effect on drinking water

Oil and gas wells created by fracking may allow contaminants to enter drinking water, according to the EPA.

We've previously talked at length about the controversy surrounding hydraulic fracturing, which is more commonly referred to simply as "fracking." Opponents claim that the fracking process poses significant risks to human health and the environment, while the industry says the technique is safe.

In 2010, Congress ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct an in-depth study of fracking, with a focus on how the process may be impacting the nation's water resources. On December 21, the agency released a "progress report," which provided industry stakeholders and members of the general public with detailed updates of 18 ongoing research projects.

The EPA asserts that it is studying all parts of the fracking water cycle, from acquisition to post-use treatment and disposal.

The study has been designated as a "highly influential scientific assessment," which suggests that its outcome may have an impact on the design of future regulations concerning oil and gas wells. The agency's Science Advisory Board is currently forming a panel of independent experts to provide input and a final report is due in 2014.

The report released in December asserted that the EPA's research has identified a potential link between fracking activity and drinking water contamination in Wyoming. However, the agency has made it clear that further analysis is necessary before it can draw any definitive conclusions.

EPA officials admit that the contaminants discovered in Pavillion, Wyoming may have been allowed to seep into nearby water supplies due to the outdated designs and technologies that were employed when the area's gas wells were constructed. This suggests that the use of modern oilfield equipment may help producers avoid leaks.