Natural gas companies, people with property and/or mineral rights overlying shale formations containing commercial deposits of natural gas or oil, and American consumers breathed a sigh of relief last week when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its much anticipated report concerning the potential threat fracking poses to water supplies. The EPA found fracking only rarely results in water contamination, and even then it is mainly due to operator error or poor practices not to the method of oil and gas production itself.
According to the four year, multimillion dollar report, 1,399 page report, the EPA, “did not find evidence that these mechanisms [hydraulic fracturing] have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”
State Oversight Adequate
Supporters note the EPA’s study if not the first to determine state oversight, industry best practices and innovation in technology and engineering have proven adequate to protect water quality.
In a statement issued shortly after the release of the EPA’s report, Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research said, “It only took four years and 1,000 pages, but the EPA finally confirmed what we already knew—hydraulic fracturing is safe and states have been effectively regulating the process. The national environmental lobby and celebrity activists will have to invent new reasons to oppose what has undoubtedly been a force for good here at home and around the world.”
“Hydraulic fracturing, combined with horizontal drilling, has spurred historical increases in U.S. natural gas and oil production,” Pyle’s statement continued. “This has been the lone bright spot in our economy as increased production has led to lower energy costs and more jobs for American families. The hydraulic fracturing revolution has also had dramatic global implications by loosening OPEC’s stranglehold on the price of oil. Simply put, hydraulic fracturing is an American success story,” concluded Pyle
EPA: Few Problems
The EPA report notes, 25,000 to 30,000 new fracking sites have been created since 2011, in other locations exiting traditional oil and gas wells were also fracked. As a result, more than 9.4 million people have lived within one mile of a fracking site since 2000, and 6,800 sources of public drinking water are near close fracking sites. Though fracking is widespread, the study failed to identify a single instance where the fracking process itself — as opposed to operator error or negligence — resulted in water contamination. The EPA did find a handful of cases where activities surrounding fracking “led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells.” The study reports even those cases, “may also be due to other limiting factors,” including “the presence of other sources of contamination precluding a definitive link between hydraulic fracturing activities and an impact.” Out of 151 spills the EPA identified, fracking fluids reached surface water in only 13 instances — and “none of the spills of hydraulic fracturing fluid were reported to have reached ground water.”
According to Isaac Orr, a research fellow with The Heartland Institute who has written several recent studies on fracking and frac sand mining, this study is a clear vindication of fracking operators and promoters. Orr said, “After four yeas of studying the issue of hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as ‘fracking,’ the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded fracking is not having widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water.
“This comes as no surprise to the people who have studied the academic literature on fracking and its impacts on the environment,” said Orr. “However, the report delivers a devastating blow to activists like Josh Fox, creator of the movie Gasland, who have made a living spreading misinformation about the dangers of the oil and natural gas extraction process.
Fracking Bans Under Fire
Orr continued, “Hydraulic fracturing is safe. State policy makers should look to the science in the EPA report and avoid the mistakes of New York and Maryland, which have banned hydraulic fracturing.”
The EPA report gives ammunition to critics of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Maryland’s Democrat controlled legislature’s decisions to ban fracking this year. They pointed out fracking was bringing prosperity to many regions of neighboring states including Pennsylvania and West Virginia and argued Cuomo and Maryland acted despite clear evidence fracking was regularly conducted safely.
Even some environmentalists offered cautious endorsements of the report’s findings. The USA Today quoted Bob Perciasepe, a former deputy administrator of the EPA, now president of the Washington-based Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, saying, “I think EPA’s identified that the risks are local and can be managed. It’s up to states and industry to keep their eye on the ball.”
It is unclear whether the new report will lead New York, Maryland and other states and localities to reconsider bans or moratoria they enacted against fracking.
H. Sterling Burnett ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
Environmental Protection Agency, Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources; June 4, 2015; https://heartland.org/policy-documents/assessment-potential-impacts-hydraulic-fracturing-oil-and-gas-drinking-water-resour