Is hydraulic fracturing regulated under the SDWA?

No.  Prior to 1997, the EPA considered hydraulic fracturing to be a well stimulation technique associated with production and therefore not subject to the UIC program under the SDWA.   However, in 1994, the Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation challenged EPA’s opinion on hydraulic fracturing regulation, and in 1997 the Eleventh Circuit ruled that hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane wells was indeed subject to the SDWA and UIC regulations under Alabama’s UIC program. 

In 1999, the EPA then began a study on hydraulic fracturing used in coalbed methane reservoirs to evaluate the potential risks to USDWs.   The EPA’s study focused on coalbed methane reservoirs because they are generally closer to the surface and in greater proximity to USDWs than conventional gas reservoirs.   EPA published the coalbed methane study in 2004.   In the report, EPA concluded that there was little to no risk of fracturing fluid contaminating underground sources of drinking water during hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane production wells.   Nonetheless, the EPA had, as a precautionary measure, entered into a Memorandum of Agreement in 2003 with companies that conduct hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane wells to eliminate use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids.  

In 2005, the Energy Policy Act was passed by Congress, which amended SDWA to exclude “the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities” from regulation under the UIC program. 

You can learn more about the Safe Drinking Water Act at the EPA’s website at:

https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-safe-drinking-water-act

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