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Killdeer area chosen for EPA study on fracking and risks to drinking water

The Bakken Shale in the Killdeer area is one of seven sites selected for a case study on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses pressurized fluid and sand to break oil and gas-bearing rock. Some say the process threatens groundwater, while the industry assures it is safe.

North Dakota Rep. Kenton Onstad of Parshall represents the Killdeer area. He says major changes would have to be made if the study were to conclude it is unsafe.

"There are nationwide concerns about the fracking process and the approach has been one-size-fits-all and that is not the case," he said. "I think it is good the EPA is separating the types of fracturing in different parts of the country to see what is going on."

Manager and CEO of Southwest Water Authority Mary Massad of Dickinson said though she has heard of the concerns in other states she does not see the same issues in North Dakota.

"We have occasionally been asked about the link between fracking and water quality and if the water is safe," she said. "Our state, the State Water Department, the Department of Health and the Department of Mineral Resources all do an excellent job of preserving our natural resources -- especially water."

Locations in Colorado, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas were also chosen for the study based on fracking projects and their proximity to people and drinking water, evidence of poor water quality and health and environmental concerns, said Cathy Milbourn, special assistant at the EPA in Washington, D.C.

Congress mandated the study in light of concerns raised by citizens about the potential impact on water, health and the environment, she said.

The EPA will investigate reported instances of drinking water contamination in areas where hydraulic fracturing has occurred in Dunn County, according to EPA documents.

The big question, Onstad said is, "is it safe?"

"I hope it is," he said. "Without the technology we are using we can't accomplish what we are doing."

The EPA will contact landowners selected to be part of the study in the coming months, Milbourn said Thursday but she did not know what Dunn County properties were chosen.

The sites were also chosen because of unique geological and hydrological features and land use, among other characteristics.

Results of the study are expected by the end of 2012. However, additional reports of study findings will be published in 2014.

Three of five Dunn County Commission members had not heard of the study when asked Thursday. Two could not be reached for comment.