Also this month, the Environmental Protection Agency released its Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources, which details its plans to research the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing and well injection processes on drinking water resources.
Finally, on November 10, 2011, the Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board made available for public comment its report on shale gas production.
The University of Texas at Austin's Hydraulic Fracturing Study
The Institute's preliminary findings suggest no direct link between hydraulic fracturing and groundwater contamination. Instead, allegations of contamination appear to be related to above-ground spills or other mishandling of the wastewater produced from shale gas drilling, and not to the hydraulic fracturing activity. The Institute noted that media coverage of hydraulic fracturing is decidedly negative, though few news reports mention scientific research of the practice.
The Institute's final report will identify existing regulations related to shale gas development, and evaluate the capacity of individual states to enforce the regulations. The report will also analyze public perception of hydraulic fracturing. The final report is expected to be issued in early 2012.
EPA's Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources
The EPA plans to research the potential effects on drinking water resources of numerous processes, including hydraulic fracturing fluid mixing, well injection and fracturing, and surface spills of flowback and produced water. The EPA will gather and analyze existing data, as well as develop case studies at sites in the Haynesville, Marcellus, Bakken, and Barnett Shales. The case studies will retrospectively study drinking water at sites where fracturing has already occurred, and prospectively study pre- and post-fracturing conditions at sites where fracturing is about to start. The EPA will also conduct laboratory work to assess the toxicity of hydraulic fracturing fluids and wastewater, and their potential impact on drinking water resources.
The EPA expects to release two reports detailing the study, one in 2012 and the other in 2014. The 2012 report will contain an analysis of existing data, including the chemicals found in flowback water, the frequency and causes of spills of hydraulic fracturing wastewaters, and the toxicological properties of chemicals found in the wastewater.
The 2014 report will evaluate data from resources such as the retrospective and prospective cases studies and the laboratory work. Among other things, the 2014 report will identify methods to protect drinking water from oil and gas resources before and after hydraulic fracturing, evaluate the impact of fracturing on local water quality and availability, and assess the potential for hydraulic fractures to interfere with geological features.
U.S. Department of Energy Shale Gas Production Subcommittee's Second Ninety Day Report
The report focuses on the implementation of the 20 recommendations the U.S. Department of Energy made in its interim report, which included the improvement of public information about shale gas production, disclosure of fracturing fluid composition, and the creation of a shale gas industry production organization dedicated to improving best practices.
The final report calls for credible progress in reducing the environmental impact of shale gas production. The recommendations for implementation require action by federal and state agencies, and call for the creation of new partnerships or "mechanisms for success" to address air, water, and ecological concerns.
This article was prepared by Barclay R. Nicholson (email@example.com or 713 651 3662) and Brian Albrecht (firstname.lastname@example.org or 713 651 3584) from Fulbright's Litigation Department.
Learn more about Fulbright's Shale and Hydraulic Fracturing Task Force at www.fulbright.com/fracking.
 See Gary Rasp, Early Results from Hydraulic Fracturing Study Show No Direct Link to Groundwater Contamination, The University of Texas at Austin's Energy Institute, Nov. 9, 2011, available at
 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources, Nov. 2011, available at http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/upload/hf_study_plan_110211_final_508.pdf.
 U.S. Department of Energy, Shale Gas Production Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, Shale Gas Production Subcommittee Second Ninety Day Report, Nov. 18, 2011, available at http://www.shalegas.energy.gov/resources/111011_90_day_report.pdf.