Both the energy industry and environmentalists are welcoming a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has the potential to contaminate drinking water, but that there’s no evidence that the problem so far has been widespread.
Five years ago Congress asked the EPA to study the issue, and on June 4 the agency’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) issued the document, which identifies only “specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”
EPA spokesman Thomas Burke said the $30 million study “greatly advances our scientific understanding of fracking’s impacts, and it serves as a foundation for future study.” Related: US Shale Will Not Bounce Back At Current Prices
Fracking involves cracking hard underground shale rock, then using a mix of chemicals – proprietary to each company – that frees the oil or gas trapped within the rock and is otherwise inaccessible through conventional drilling technologies.
The practice has been a boon to the US energy industry, creating jobs in vast regions of shale, including Appalachia, the Dakotas and Texas, and is boosting oil and gas output to a point where the United States is fast approaching not only energy independence but has also achieved the status of becoming the global leader in energy producer. Related: This Nation Is Poised For A Massive Refining Boom
The report said that from 2000 to 2013 there were 6,800 sources of drinking water situated within one mile of a fracked well. “These drinking water sources served more than 8.6 million people year-round in 2013,” it said.
The U.S. energy industry and its allies welcomed the report. One representative, Erik Milito, director of the Upstream Group of the American Petroleum Institute, said it “confirms what the agency has already acknowledged and what the oil and gas industry has known. Hydraulic fracturing is being done safely under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators and industry best practices.” Related: Why Has Chinese Spending On Oil Dried Up?
Rep. Robert Latta, an Ohio Republican, agreed. “This study further mitigates any concerns about hydraulic fracturing’s potential impacts to ground water, and will allow us to continue development under the robust regulatory oversight of the developing states,” he said.
Environmentalists also embraced the report, but for a different reason: the potential for broader water contamination. “The assessment smashes the myth that there can be oil and gas development without impacts to drinking water,” said John Noel of Clean Water Action.
And Amy Mall of the Natural Resources Defense Council said there’s no escaping the report’s conclusion that some water contamination already has occurred. “The report, while limited, shows fracking can and has impacted drinking water sources in many different ways,” she said. “We agree that the public needs better protections.”
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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