The Environmental Protection Agency released on Thursday its final research plan into the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.

According to its drafted research plan, the agency wants to determine if hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, can impact drinking water resources, and if it can, what are the likely consequences.

The overall purpose of this study is to elucidate the relationship, if any, between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources, read the EPA's final plan. More specifically, the study has been designed to assess the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources and to identify the driving factors that affect the severity and frequency of any impacts.

To conduct this study, the EPA will rely on case studies, data already gathered by state agencies and laboratory tests.

Its initial findings will be released to the public in 2012 and its final report released in 2014, according to EPA's website.

Once released, the study is to have a detailed understanding of the full cycle of water in hydraulic fracturing, from the acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced or used water as well as its ultimate treatment and disposal, read the agency's website.

The EPA is conducting this study over the next several years after Congress asked for one be conducted back in 2010. Energy companies, however, maintain hydraulic fracturing is a safe method of extracting oil and natural gas from within coal or shale rock formations. The Independent Petroluem Association of America, along with five other engery groups, sent EPA director Lisa Jackson a four-page email critical of the planned study on Oct. 20.

The petroluem association also cites a Pennsylvania State University study published last month which suggests fracking in rural Pennsylvania caused no increase in methane levels in water wells as proof that postive fracking is safe. But that same study is quick to point out its finding should be interpreted with caution, and that more long-term analysis is needed.