A multi-year study conducted by the EPA has found that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is not systemically contaminating U.S. groundwater supplies, a claim often parroted by environmental groups.
“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 EPA said in its draft fracking report submitted to its science advisory board Thursday.
“We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States,” the EPA concluded.
The EPA’s findings were welcomed by the oil and gas industry, and come after years of Obama administration officials pushing back against environmentalist opposition to fracking. Obama cabinet officials, including Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, have argued that fracking can be done safely with the right regulations in place.
“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,” Erik Milito, upstream director with the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement.
“Hydraulic fracturing is being done safely under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators and industry best practices,” Milito said.
The EPA also failed to link fracking to groundwater contamination in three previous studies in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming. The EPA’s new draft report, however, found there may be risks to some water supplies, saying they “found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells.”
Such occurrences were rare, leading the EPA to say this “finding could reflect a rarity of effects on drinking water resources, but may also be due to other limiting factors.”
Environmentalists, on the other hand, spun the report to argue that the EPA confirmed fracking poses risks to drinking water. Most environmental groups want to see fracking banned, touting New York state’s recent decision to not allow the well-stimulation technique.
“The EPA’s water quality study confirms what millions of Americans already know – that dirty oil and gas fracking contaminates drinking water,” Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, the EPA chose to leave many critical questions unanswered,” Brune said. “The EPA must conduct a comprehensive study that results in action to protect public health.”
Fracking involves injecting water, sand and some chemicals about 8,000 feet below the surface to break apart shale formations and unlock vast reserves of oil and natural gas. Fracking has unleashed a U.S. energy boom that has toppled domestic gas prices and caused global oil prices to plunge.
Individual U.S. states now compete with whole countries in terms of oil and gas production. For example, Texas now produces more natural gas than every OPEC nation — only Russia produces more natural gas.
“Hydraulic fracturing has been used safely in over a million wells, resulting in America’s rise as a global energy superpower, growth in energy investments, wages, and new jobs,” Milito said.
Fracking proponents also note that increased natural gas production has done more to lower U.S. carbon dioxide emissions than President Barack Obama’s global warming agenda, and that any potential risks noted by the EPA’s study can be addressed by “a wide array of strong state regulations, industry standards, and federal laws,” according to Milito.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration finalized regulations for oil and gas companies fracking on federally-controlled lands. This regulation was challenged by the oil and gas industry for being redundant because the rules basically mirrored those already put into place by states.
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