The EPA Will Likely Conclude Fracking Doesn't Contaminate Drinking Water

Category: Investment, Water


December 7, 2016 (www.waternewswire.com) The Environmental Protection Agency may soon dispel one of the green movements favorite myths: That fracking contaminates drinking water, says IPI's Dr. Merrill Matthews in The Hill.

He writes:

In the coming days, the EPA will finalize a 2015 report that found no link between fracking and "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water." If the agency's final position hasn't been co-opted by the environmental movement, as many other recent federal agency findings have, it should lay to rest the concern over fracking and groundwater.

The finding is hardly revolutionary. Years of scientific studies have confirmed the safety of fracking.

The 2015 EPA analysis was an extensive, five-year compilation of nearly 1,000 different data sources—including science and engineering journals, government studies and peer-reviewed EPA reports. Thomas A. Burke, an EPA science adviser, was quoted as calling it the "most complete compilation of scientific data to date."

A new "study of the study" by Catalyst Environmental Solutions fully confirms the EPA's findings. After analyzing a wide range of case studies and scientific reports, researchers concluded, "If there was a significant correlation between impaired drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing, that connection would be manifested in the areas that EPA evaluated."

In other words, if there were any truth to the claim that fracking contaminates water, the EPA's study would have found it. Unfortunately, not everyone is happy with that conclusion.

Earlier this year, scientists at the University of Cincinnati completed a three-year study concluding that fracking had no harmful effects on groundwater in the Utica Shale area. Alarmingly, however, the head researcher was initially planning to withhold the results from the public, conceding that the primary funders "feel that fracking is scary" and "were hoping this data could be a reason to ban it."

Also this year, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality completed a 30-month study of water supplies in Pavillion Gas Field. The agency found no evidence that "hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallow depths intersected by water-supply wells."

Meanwhile, a 2015 study conducted by the California Council on Science and Technology and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found no "documented instances of hydraulic fracturing or acid simulations directly causing groundwater contamination in California."

While there may have been occasional isolated instances of water contamination, those are generally a result of human error and seldom related to the fracking process. The EPA study cites as an example, "a truck carrying wastewater could spill ...." But the agency concludes, "the number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells."

The reason fracking is safe lies in the process. Fracked wells generally drill down 5,000 to 6,000 feet, which means about a mile of rock separates the shale deposit and any human water source.

Moreover, wells are specifically constructed to avoid water contamination. Gas wells have multiple layers of cemented steel piping and employ backflow preventers to ensure liquids can flow in only one direction. Well sites also include special liners, storage tanks with back-up protection measures, and special barriers to contain oil and gas. And every drilling project is heavily regulated by federal agencies.

The EPA's report couldn't come at a better time. Fracking critics have convinced two states, New York and Vermont, to ban fracking, and Maryland has imposed a moratorium on the process. In addition, dozens of cities have banned fracking. One of the critics' most potent argument is that fracking will pollute drinking water. But that's not what the EPA concluded.

The EPA is confirming what scientists have known for years: Fracking poses no harm to water supplies. The public and elected officials need this information in order to respond effectively to the highly publicized and well-financed efforts to end fracking.

The Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) is an independent, non profit public policy research organization based in Dallas. IPI resident scholar Dr. Merrill Matthews is available for interview by contacting Erin Humiston, (972) 874-5139, or erin@ipi.org.