The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its final report on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, confirming what environmentalists have known for several years – fracking contaminates drinking water.
A year and a half ago the EPA released their initial fracking report, which stated that the EPA “did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” This was shocking to many, as families across the United States have won court cases over the impacts of fracking on their water and scientists have found arsenic in water sources near fracking sites.
The final report states that the process of fracking impacts drinking water “under some circumstances.” The reference to fracking not leading to impacts on drinking water has been removed completely. The agency instead stated, “The report, done at the request of Congress, provides scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances.”
Regardless of the changes they made to the report, the EPA still downplayed the health risks, not going as far as to call them “widespread” but merely highlighting the lack of data on fracking’s impact on water: “Data gaps and uncertainties limited EPA’s ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water resources both locally and nationally,” the agency said in a statement. “The understanding of the potential impacts from hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources will continue to improve over time as new information becomes available.”
The agency did identify several areas where fracking could have “more frequent or severe” impacts: water withdrawals for fracking in times or areas of low water availability, spills during the management of fracking fluids or chemicals, injection of fracking fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, injection of fracking fluids into groundwater resources, discharge of inadequately treated fracking wastewater into surface water resources, and disposal or storage of fracking wastewater in unlined pits.
The specific cases of fracking contamination in Dimock, Pennsylvania; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyoming that were omitted from the draft report are present in the final version.
Of course, the oil and gas industry were quick to criticize the report. According to American Petroleum Institute Upstream Director Erik Milito, “It is beyond absurd for the administration to reverse course on its way out the door. The science and data clearly demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing does not lead to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources. Unfortunately, consumers have witnessed five years and millions of dollars expended only to see conclusion based in science changed to a conclusion based in political ambiguity.”
But Greenpeace says what environmentalists, activists, and people personally affected fracking have been thinking, “The EPA’s final report on impacts of fracking on groundwater has concluded what too many Americans already know from personal experience: Fracking has caused lasting harm to drinking water sources throughout the country.”