After five years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that its long-awaited assessment of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources identified no “widespread” or “systemic” impacts. The assessment (completed pursuant to Congressional mandate) follows water through all fracking phases—water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, collection of wastewater, and wastewater treatment and disposal. It compiles vast amounts of scientific information and data on the water impacts of fracking, considers information from stakeholders, and underwent peer review.
These findings confirm what many existing studies have already concluded—that hydraulic fracturing does not harm drinking water sources. EPA’s caveat that the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water are not “widespread” or “systemic” is seemingly unnecessary as there has never been a confirmed instance of groundwater contamination causes by hydraulic fracturing. Indeed, EPA’s portrayal of the comprehensive data compiled for the report is frustratingly pessimistic. The data show that over 60+ years, and nearly two million wells, hydraulic fracturing well stimulation has been conducted responsibly and without adversely impacting drinking water resources.
The draft assessment also identified vulnerabilities in the water system, which include: water withdrawals in areas with low water availability; fracking into formations that contain drinking water resources; inadequately cased or cemented wells; inadequately treated wastewater that is than discharged into drinking water resources; and spills of fracking fluids and wastewater. Of these potential “vulnerabilities,” few can be credibly characterized as vulnerabilities that are specific to hydraulic fracturing. Instead, these are vulnerabilities managed by the oil and gas industry regardless of whether a well is completed using hydraulically fracturing or not. And, they are vulnerabilities that are fully regulated in every state with oil and gas development, federally under multiple statutes, and through a wide variety of industry standards.
Further, while water withdrawals can indeed pose a risk to drinking water resources, that vulnerability is not appropriately attributed to the oil and gas industry alone. Water availability is an important issue for all industrial, agricultural, and residential water users.
Again, while the Agency’s portrayal of the findings is pessimistic, the study is the most comprehensive examination of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources to date and confirms that hydraulic fracturing can be conducted safely and responsibly.