While water pollution associated with hydraulic fracturing operations has occurred, the revolutionary oil extraction technique has not led to widespread, systematic pollution of drinking water, according to a long-awaited study from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The EPA has worked on the study for nearly five years now. Now with some assurance, the EPA has found that overall, fracking has little impact on the quality of drinking water. However, the risk does increase in places where water resources are scarce.
Some of the notable possible examples where fracking could pose a threat highlighted from the analysis 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 gases; and inadequate treatment and discharge of water.”
Although the EPA found 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 were small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.
“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,” said API Upstream Group Director Erik Milito. “Hydraulic fracturing is being done safely under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators and industry best practices.”
North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer used the new findings as a chance to speak out against the fracking regulations from Bureau of Land Management.
“The EPA acknowledges states play a primary role in regulating most natural gas and oil development and they have safely managed and regulated hydraulic fracturing for decades,” said Cramer. He added that “the BLM should take this assessment into account and withdraw their hydraulic fracturing rule which is duplicative to state regulations the EPA has confirmed protect our groundwater.”
Yet, as the EPA stated, this level of risk could be impacted by numerous variables. This includes instances where pre- and post-fracturing data on the quality of drinking water resources is insufficient. In addition, weak data on the presence of other sources of contamination precluding hydraulic fracturing activities could also be a factor.
According to the EPA, this report can be used by federal, tribal, state, and local officials; industry; and the public to better understand and address any vulnerabilities of drinking water resources to hydraulic fracturing activities.
The assessment reviewed, analyzed, and synthesized information relevant to the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources at each stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. Impacts were defined as any change in the quality or quantity of drinking water resources. You can review the full report here.
Article updated at 4:58 pm 6/4/2015.