The latest EPA report on fracking has led to an acute case of selective reading in the media, and the problem exists on both sides of the debate. In the end, the conclusion might be that more research is required.
Hydraulic fracturing, known commonly as fracking, has been at the center of a heated debate for many years. Proponents say that fracking and other new drilling techniques have ushered in a new oil and gas boom, which is quickly lessening U.S. dependence on foreign oil and improving the economy.
Opponents claim the practice contaminates drinking water and has other harmful environmental effects (like earthquakes), often using ignitable tap water as evidence.
The report from the environmental protection agency (EPA) was meant to declare a winner. Unfortunately, both sides found what they liked and ran with it.
Republican Senator Joseph Imhofe led the charge in a press statement.
“The EPA’s report on hydraulic fracturing confirms what we have known for over 60 years when the process began in Duncan, Oklahoma – hydraulic fracturing is safe.”
He went on to blame the Obama administration for vilifying the practice.
“This is the latest in a series of failed attempts by the administration to link hydraulic fracturing to systematic drinking water contamination.”
According to Politifact, Imhofe’s statement is false. The report does not conclude that fracking is safe, and that was confirmed by an official from the EPA. In fact, the report actually documents cases of real-life water contamination.
On the other side, the Natural Resources Defense Council used the EPA report to exaggerate the problem well beyond the real evidence.
“This draft study provides solid scientific analysis that fracking has contaminated drinking water around the country… But despite the holes, it is clear EPA has found impacts — they just cannot be sure how widespread those impacts are.”
Unfortunately for the nonprofit and its senior policy analyst Amy Mall, the report didn’t say that either. Instead, it claimed that the EPA found no evidence of “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water.”
The report merely showcased a few instances of water contamination but says they appear to be isolated. According to the Washington Post, the report still says that future fracking activity might lead to polluting wells and aquifers.
So, who won?
The most concrete conclusion may well be that reading a 998-page technical report from the EPA illustrating 950 points of data is difficult, even for policy experts.
Still, whoever declares first victory will likely be remembered as correct, even if they’re later proven wrong. That puts a lot of pressure on readers to skim, skip, and spin the material.
The other thing both sides seem to agree on is there are holes in the report, and the EPA thinks so too. Bloomberg highlighted some of the companies that refused to give up data, which may have clouded the study’s results.
There might too much spin to trust anyone on the EPA fracking report, but for citizens concerned enough to give it a crack, the full study is here.
[Image Credit: Getty Images]