Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...
By Alan Kovski
Dec. 13 — An Environmental Protection Agency report on hydraulic fracturing does not change the assessment of fracking risks to drinking water in any basic way, an oil and gas association executive said Dec. 13.
In a draft version of the report, the EPA said it found no “widespread, systemic” risks. In its final report, the agency said fracking “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances.”
Neither summary statement, in either draft or final version, says pollution of drinking water is likely or widespread because of fracking, said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an industry group.
The final report—a product of five years of work—lists circumstances under which there is a greater risk of pollution, such as when fracking fluids are injected into a well with inadequate mechanical integrity.
The risks that the EPA listed have been understood all along, Sgamma told Bloomberg BNA, “and that’s exactly why states have strict regulations to reduce that risk.”
Thomas Burke, deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, told reporters the study provides information that regulators and industry can use. “Providing useful information is the point of the study,” Burke said.
The study doesn’t call for additional regulations. States have repeatedly said they are able to handle the regulations themselves, and some of them have sued the Bureau of Land Management over its attempt to apply new regulations to fracking-related activities on federal and Indian lands.
Environmental advocates have expressed hopes that the study would lead to better regulations. Food & Water Watch in Washington, D.C., one of the most adamant in its opposition to fracking, has called for a nationwide ban on the process.
The EPA Science Advisory Board, critiquing an earlier version of the report, said the statement about finding no “widespread, systemic risks” needed quantitative support. Burke told reporters Dec. 13 that the agency’s scientists concluded there wasn’t enough data to provide the requested quantitative support.
“There is little data on water quality prior, during or after hydraulic fracturing activities,” Burke said during a news teleconference.
The science advisers also criticized the draft final report for not adequately distinguishing between likely and unlikely risks. The final report listed circumstances under which drinking water resources are more likely to be vulnerable to pollution from fracking:
Part of the difficulty in summarizing the risks could stem from the EPA’s definition of “drinking water resources,” which is not the same as “drinking water aquifer” or “drinking water.”
For decades, the agency has defined “drinking water resources” as any water with total dissolved solids below 10,000 milligrams per liter, on the assumption that such water could someday be cleaned up enough to be drinkable. U.S. water utilities typically restrict drinking water to less than 500 mg/L total dissolved solids.
A drinking water resource, by EPA definition, could be too deep, too small or trapped in rock too solid to make recovery practical, in addition to being too saline for water utility standards.
Commenting on the difference between water resources and drinking water, Sgamma said there has never been a drinking water aquifer that has been contaminated by the fracking process.
The final report also includes information on pollution problems encountered in or near Dimock, Pa.; Pavillion, Wyo.; and Parker County, Texas. The report does not offer firm conclusions about the sources of pollution for any of the three locations, however.
The report elicited a reaction from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, that was similar to Sgamma’s. He said the agency tinkered with its summary but didn’t change the fundamentals of the report.
“EPA’s study on hydraulic fracturing only reinforces what science continues to support—that fracking does not cause harm to our drinking water resources,” Inhofe said in a statement.
“While EPA sought to tinker with the topline finding of its draft report, the scant changes made to this final report were not based on any new data,” Inhofe said.
Erik Milito, upstream director of the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, issued a statement critical of the EPA’s changes to the report and concluded, “We look forward to working with the new administration in order to instill fact-based science back into the public policy process.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Kovski in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at email@example.com
The EPA final report on hydraulic fracturing risks to drinking water is available at http://src.bna.com/kIy.
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)