The Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday that it will, for the first time, set national standards for disposal of the toxin-laden wastewater that results from hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking.
The move by the EPA means federal law will eventually determine the levels of chemicals that may be present in treated wastewater when it is released into rivers and streams. Until now, states set their own standards for the handling of the large volumes of wastewater resulting from fracking.
"The president has made clear that natural gas has a central role to play in our energy economy. That is why we are taking steps — in coordination with our federal partners and informed by the input of industry experts, states and public health organizations — to make sure the needs of our energy future are met safely and responsibly,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, in a written statement.
But, fracking supporters questioned the need for of government involvement. Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group active in the Northeast U.S., said, "This is yet another Washington solution in search of a problem, as treated Marcellus water in Pennsylvania is no longer discharged into surface waters," Klaber said in a statement.
Fracking is an increasingly popular technique used for extracting natural gas from difficult underground geologic formations, such as shale. In recent years, shale gas has grown to about a quarter of all domestic gas production, according to the Energy Information Administration.
EPA regulators will study the available data and propose the rules in 2014.
New York State is now writing its own standards for wastewater disposal as part of a broader review of fracking.