Impact of fracking on drinking water studied
June 9, 2015
Analyzing an issue of major importance to large swaths of rural America, the Environmental Protection Agency today released the draft of a congressionally mandated study on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources in the United States.
EPA said the assessment 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 assessment follows the water used for hydraulic fracturing, often called "fracking," from water acquisition, chemical mixing at the well pad site, well injection of fracking fluids, the collection of wastewater (including flowback and produced water), and waste water 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 Thomas Burke, EPA's science adviser 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."
On a call to reporters, Burke said the report would be of use to the states, which play a primary role in regulating most natural gas and oil development.
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EPA's authority is limited by statutory or regulatory exemptions under the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Ac, EPA noted in a news release. Where EPA's exemptions exist, states may have authority to regulate unconventional oil and gas extraction activities under their own state laws.
"EPA's review of data sources available to the agency found specific instances where well integrity and waste water management related to hydraulic fracturing activities impacted drinking water resources, but they were small compared to the large number of hydraulically fractured wells across the country," the agency said in a news release.
EPA said vulnerabilities to drinking water resources include:
▪ Water withdrawals in areas with low water availability;
▪ Hydraulic fracturing conducted directly into formations containing drinking water resources;
▪ Inadequately cased or cemented wells resulting in below ground migration of gases and liquids;
▪ Inadequately treated wastewater discharged into drinking water resources;
▪ Spills of hydraulic fluids and hydraulic fracturing wastewater, including flowback and produced water.
Nine peer-reviewed scientific reports were part of EPA's overall study, and contributed to the findings outlined in the draft assessment and more than 20 peer-reviewed articles or reports that were published as part of the study.
The EPA study appeared to bolster industry arguments that fracking is safe, but Environment America said that the study "understates the drilling technique's impact on drinking water" and that the draft "reflects pressure from Congress and the oil and gas industry to severely limit its scope."
The study will be finalized after review by the Science Advisory Board and public review and comment. The Federal Register notice with information on the SAB review and how to comment on the draft assessment will be published on Friday, EPA said.
–The Hagstrom Report