EPA Close to Launching Fracking Study

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"Study may lead to new federal fracturing rules."

The Environmental Protection Agency is close to launching a broad study on hydraulic fracturing, but the probe doesn't guarantee that the federal government will step in and regulate the drilling technique, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said Wednesday.

Jackson said the agency is about to offer a blueprint for a congressionally mandated study, after hearings in New York and other states on the scope of the probe last year.

"We expect, within the next month or two, to have the work plan for our study finished," she said. "This study will take a while."

Environmentalists warn that natural gas can escape out of poorly designed and secured wells, causing risks of explosion and water contamination. And they warn that harmful chemicals used in fracturing can taint nearby water sources.

The process is regulated by state and local governments, but some lawmakers want to empower the EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing under the Clean Water Act. Separately, the Interior Department is considering whether to impose chemical disclosure requirements or other mandates for hydraulic fracturing on federal land.

Jackson told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee the EPA study will help determine whether the current state-based regulation regime is sufficient.

Many localities and many states regulate various aspects of drilling, Jackson said.

"One thing I think EPA can do to add to the body of knowledge is to determine whether there are any holes in that regulatory structure," she said.

But that doesn't mean the probe will definitely lead to new federal fracturing rules.

Concerns about environmental damage have fed protests and prompted an executive order in New York that bans hydraulic fracturing in the state until July 1.

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