The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed this week that fracking has contaminated drinking water in the United States and reversed earlier statements that the oil and gas drilling process had not led to “widespread, systemic impacts” on drinking water resources, according to APR Reports.
The admission was included in the final version of a six-year, $29 million study on the environmental impact of fracking, in which the EPA clarified its conclusions about whether hydraulic fracturing had caused contamination to drinking water resources across the country.
In a final report issued Tuesday, Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources, the EPA dropped a controversial phrase from an earlier draft of the study that said that fracking had not led to “widespread, systemic impacts” on drinking water resources.
Fossil fuel industry lobbyists had praised the earlier version of the draft, which Common Dreams claims led to misleading media coverage, incorrectly stating that the report vindicated the controversial drilling method that involves shooting chemical-laden water into shale rock at high pressure to release the gas trapped underneath.
The original section of the report was widely quoted as saying that fracking was safe, though it did not, in fact, come to that conclusion.
“From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources,” the 2015 report said. “These mechanisms include water withdrawals in times of, or in areas with, low water availability; spills of hydraulic fracturing fluids and produced water; fracturing directly into underground drinking water resources; below ground migration of liquids and gasses; and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.”
The report went on to say that no evidence had been found that fracking had led to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”
However, it did note that fracking had contaminated drinking water in some parts of the United States.
“Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells.”
Despite the 2015 statement that the EPA had found evidence that fracking had contaminated water sources, major media sources reported on the study with headlines such as Newsweek’s “Fracking Doesn’t Pollute Drinking Water, EPA Says” and the Washington Times’ “EPA: Fracking doesn’t harm drinking water,” which was also adopted by the Drudge Report.
Environmental advocacy groups had accused the White House of inserting the now-removed clause, saying that President Barack Obama supports fracking as part of his “all of the above” energy policies.
The EPA’s own Science Advisory Board demanded a revision of the 2015 report in August, stating it was “lacking in several critical areas,” according to the Washington Post.
The final report did not go into detail about the severity or frequency of the impacts of fracking, but environmental advocates are applauding the EPA for finally admitting that fracking has polluted drinking water in the United States.
“The EPA has confirmed what we’ve known all along: fracking can and does contaminate drinking water. We are pleased that the agency has acted on the recommendations of its Science Advisory Board and chosen be frank about the inherent harms and hazards of fracking,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of the environmental group Food & Water Watch, said in a statement. “Today the Obama administration has rightly prioritized facts and science, and put public health and environmental protection over the profit-driven interests of the oil and gas industry.”
Actor and activist Mark Ruffalo praised the EPA’s admission about fracking dangers.
“At last the EPA confirms what independent science has overwhelmingly determined for years, that drilling and fracking contaminate drinking water,” said Ruffalo, who is on the advisory board of the American Against Fracking coalition. “Across the country, Americans have had their lives turned upside down as fracking has poisoned the water coming out of their faucets and has made their families sick. Now all of our federal and state elected officials need to take action to protect Americans by banning fracking. Water is life.”
Environmental groups have been quick to point out that there has been substantial evidence that fracking contaminates drinking water for years, particularly in shale-heavy states like Pennsylvania that have seen a lot of fracking. Pittsburgh’s Public Herald blasted the 2015 version of the EPA report, saying the national agency had “sabotaged the public trust and violated the public interest” by ignoring “stacks of documented evidence that fracking poses a major risk to drinking water supplies.”
Public Herald found evidence of water contamination in 2,309 citizen complaints from 17 of 40 shale counties in Pennsylvania alone. Their report also claimed to identify nine ways that state regulators had covered up water contamination from fracking.
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