The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on June 4 issued a draft assessment on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing activities, or fracking, on drinking water resources in the United States.
The assessment, done at the request of Congress, shows that while domestic fracking work has not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources, there are potential vulnerabilities in the water lifecycle that could affect drinking water, EPA said.
The assessment follows the water used for hydraulic fracturing from water acquisition, chemical mixing at the well pad site, well injection of fracking fluids, the collection of hydraulic fracturing wastewater (including flowback and produced water), and wastewater treatment and disposal.
“EPA’s draft assessment will give state regulators, tribes and local communities and industry around the country a critical resource to identify how best to protect public health and their drinking water resources,” said Dr. Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s science advisor and deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development.
“It is the most complete compilation of scientific data to date, including over 950 sources of information, published papers, numerous technical reports, information from stakeholders and peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports,” Burke said.
Industry and environmental groups drew different conclusions from publication of the EPA document.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) claimed vindication from the draft assessment.
“After more than five years and millions of dollars, the evidence gathered by EPA confirms what the agency has already acknowledged and what the oil and gas industry has known,” said API Upstream Group Director Erik Milito. “Hydraulic fracturing is being done safely under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators and industry best practices,” Milito said.
“Surging production of natural gas is a major reason U.S. carbon emissions are near 20-year lows. Remaining questions cited by EPA have all been addressed by a wide array of strong state regulations, industry standards, and federal laws,” the API official said.
The Sierra Club said that the study that fracking poses a risk to drinking water sources. In a review of its records, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found that 234 private drinking water wells had been contaminated by drilling and fracking.
Similar problems were turned up in Colorado and New Mexico, the Sierra Club said.
“The EPA’s water quality study confirms what millions of Americans already know – that dirty oil and gas fracking contaminates drinking water,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.
“Unfortunately, the EPA chose to leave many critical questions unanswered. For example, the study did not look at this issue under the lens of public health and ignored numerous threats that fracking poses to drinking water. The EPA must conduct a comprehensive study that results in action to protect public health,” Brune said.