EPA announces expert panel to review fracking study

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 25, 2013 7:12pm EDT

An oil derrick is seen at a fracking site for extracting oil outside of Williston, North Dakota March 11, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

An oil derrick is seen at a fracking site for extracting oil outside of Williston, North Dakota March 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. environmental regulator has selected experts in fields ranging from well-drilling to toxicology to review a highly anticipated report on the natural gas and oil extraction method commonly known as fracking.

The Environmental Protection Agency's science advisory board on Monday named 31 experts from universities, scientific labs and companies to review the agency's landmark hydraulic fracturing study that is expected to be delivered in 2014.

The study, first requested by Congress in 2010, may prove pivotal in the government's regulation of fracking that has unlocked generations' worth of oil and gas supplies.

EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe said the selection of a range of impartial experts shows the agency, whose foes have accused it of being opaque in its practices, is being open in the report's procedure.

"We have worked to ensure that the study process be open and transparent throughout, and the SAB (scientific advisory board) panel is another example of our approach of openness and scientific rigor," he said in a statement.

Fracking involves forcing large volumes of water laced with chemicals and sand deep underground to crack rock and free oil and natural gas. Critics of fracking, including many environmentalists, worry drilling operations near schools and homes can pollute water and air.

Power utilities, chemical companies and other major natural gas users fear the study could lead to more regulations and raise operating costs.

The advisory board sought public nominations for fracking specialists in August 2012, screened the 144 candidates for conflicts of interest and narrowed down the list down to 31 experts.

The EPA said on Monday the panel consists of "five current employees of companies and consulting firms; two government employees; and 21 academics/university professors (including some previously employed in industry)."

The panelists' expertise ranges from oil and gas engineering, well drilling, hydrology, geology, groundwater chemistry, toxicology, civil engineering and waste and drinking water treatment.

Their first meeting is scheduled to take place on May 7-8, 2013, where they will provide individual feedback on the 2012 progress report on the study.

For a list of the expert panelists click: link.reuters.com/zaq86t

(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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