The US Environmental Protection Agency has released a long-awaited draft assessment of high-volume hydraulic fracturing's
impact on water resources. And it's been interesting to watch the response to the study.
The EPA analyzed state and industry well and spill data, which resulted in 20 peer-reviewed scientific reports, according to a news release from the agency. It found that "while hydraulic fracturing activities in the U.S. are carried out in a way that have not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources, there are potential vulnerabilities in the water life cycle that could impact drinking water," the release says.
The EPA collected fracking water to do the testing from multiple sources. And it found specific instances where the integrity of wells and management of fracking waste water harmed drinking water resources, the news release says. (The report exposes vulnerabilities. It isn't meant to say that these things will definitely happen.) Water resources were impacted by
- Water withdrawals from areas that didn't have much available water;
- Fracking that occurred in formations with drinking water resources;
- Below-ground migration of gases and liquids from inadequately cased wells;
- Discharges of inadequately treated waste water into drinking water supplies;
- Spills of fracking waste water and fracking fluid flowback.
As for responses to the study, consider the interpretations of the American Petroleum Institute and the Sierra Club.
The API argued that fracking has led to a boom in domestic fossil fuel production and that it supports more than two million jobs. It seized on the EPA conclusion that fracking has not resulted in "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources." The organization published a statement
that included this quote from Erik Milito, its upstream group director:
“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. Hydraulic fracturing is being done safely under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators and industry best practices.”
Sierra Club makes the opposite case: the EPA's study confirms that fracking poses a threat to drinking water, it says. It issued this statement
from executive director Michael Brune:
"The EPA's water quality study confirms what millions of Americans already know - that dirty oil and gas fracking contaminates drinking water.
"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.
"Instead of blindly allowing destructive fracking to continue in our communities, we should extend statewide fracking bans, like the one in New York, and moratoriums, like the one in Maryland, that will keep dirty, climate-polluting fossil fuels like fracked gas in the ground and invest in truly clean, renewable sources of energy that don’t come with the threat of poisoned drinking water and climate disaster."