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article imageEPA agrees that fracking has a potential impact on drinking water

By Karen Graham     Dec 14, 2016 in Environment
Weeks away from getting a new chief who is fracking-friendly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally released its final report on the threat posed to our drinking water by fracking.
A 2015 draft report released by the EPA was supposed to answer the question of whether deep drilling and fracking for natural gas and oil posed a threat to our drinking water.
At that time, oil and gas industry groups seized on one sentence in the report that they said proved that fracking was safe. The EPA said in the report it had reached the conclusion that the process (fracking) has no national “widespread, systemic impact” on drinking water.
Fracking the Bakken Formation in North Dakota.
Fracking the Bakken Formation in North Dakota.
Joshua Doubek (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Environmentalists and thousands of families across the country disagreed with the EPA's conclusion because those families were the very ones that had been impacted by contaminated drinking water caused by hydraulic fracturing. Opponents of the draft report accused the EPA of bowing to political considerations instead of basing the report on scientific evidence, and there was plenty of that.
But on Tuesday this week, the long-awaited final report was finally issued, and the troubling sentence had been removed, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The report said that in certain circumstances, fracking does pose a risk to drinking water.
This was a major U-turn for the agency and one that is being hailed by many fracking critics who have said all along that hydraulic fracturing does put our groundwater at risk of contamination. Critics also point out that the long-term effects of fracking are still poorly understood.
"While the number of identified cases of drinking water contamination is small, the scientific evidence is insufficient to support estimates of the frequency of contamination," EPA spokesman Thomas Burke tells the Wall Street Journal. "Scientists involved with finalizing the assessment specifically identified this uncertainty in the report."
"This report acknowledges what far too many communities across this country know to be true — fracking is a threat to our clean drinking water," Madeleine Foote of the League of Conservation voters tells the New York Times
And to be quite clear, the 1,200-page report, five years in the making, details every aspect of the hydraulic fracturing process, covering the geological and environmental sciences behind all that is done. The report also includes scientific data on the chemicals used in fracturing and the different studies done around the country where groundwater was compromised.
The EPA's Executive Summary of the report is only 60 pages long and is a lot easier to plow through, but it is interesting. Interestingly, because of data gaps cited by the EPA, as limiting their ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water from fracking, this might be a good time for more inclusive studies to be done.
But the hard part is still to come, and it's just a few short weeks away. Donald Trump's nominee for chief of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has a long record of fighting fracking regulations, and it is critical that during the confirmation process, lawmakers need to ask him if he will follow the EPA's recommendations, based on science, or go with the industry's political spin.
More about Fracking, EPA Report, UTURN, threat to drinking water, scientific evidence
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