March 18, 2010 / 1:52 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. EPA to study shale gas drilling - lawmaker

* Comes as oil majors invest in shale gas sector

* Study to put spotlight on “fracking” impact on water

By Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON, March 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was set to announce on Thursday that it will begin to take a closer look at the environmental and human health impact of shale gas drilling, according to a U.S. congressman who wants to see more regulation for the industry.

The study, which could take months to complete, will put the spotlight on the potential dangers of hydraulic fracturing for water supplies and public health at a time when major oil companies like Exxon Mobil (XOM.N), BP (BP.L), Statoil STL.OL and Total (TOTF.PA) are pouring investment into the shale gas sector.

Representative Maurice Hinchey of New York said the EPA on Wednesday night told groups concerned about the drilling technique that the agency would begin the first phase of its study on Thursday.

An EPA spokeswoman confirmed the agency would be making an announcement about hydraulic fracturing on Thursday, but declined to provide further details.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” injects a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations to stimulate oil and natural gas production.

Some environmental groups claim the technique is unsafe and want the government to regulate it.

Energy companies say improved fracking technology allows them to drill for oil and gas in an environmentally safe manner. They also say there is no evidence fracking has contaminated water supplies.

Analysts have said shale gas could supply more than 100 years of natural gas consumption at current rates, and have called it a “game changer” for the industry. [ID:nN10157175]

Hinchey co-authored pending legislation that would require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they use in their fracking processes. [ID:nN09386715]

“I applaud the EPA’s decision to begin a serious investigation into this matter and will continue working to protect our environment from the chemical concoctions being pumped into the ground by energy companies,” Hinchey said in a statement.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told lawmakers last month she would rearrange the agency’s budget so the fracking study could be carried out this year. But she provided few details on how it would be conducted. [ID:nN08186181]

The House Energy and Commerce Committee also has called on the EPA to investigate the effects of fracking.

“There are compelling reasons to believe that hydraulic fracturing may impact ground water and surface water quality in ways that threaten human health and the environment, which demands further study,” the EPA said last month. [ID:nN1819819] (Editing by Walter Bagley)

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