WASHINGTON, DC -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s long-awaited fracking study understates the drilling technique’s impact on drinking water, Environment America said today. The study’s finding that fracking poses no "widespread, systemic" risks stands in contrast to a mounting body of scientific evidence demonstrating fracking’s threat to water resources and public health.
“This study’s main finding flies in the face of fracking’s dangerous reality,” said Rachel Richardson, director of Environment America’s Stop Drilling program. “The fact is, dirty drilling has caused documented, widespread water contamination across the country.”
Despite industry secrecy and a lack of adequate testing, a growing number of studies have found a clear link between fracking and water contamination.
- A recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found fracking chemicals in nearby drinking water wells.
- Another recent review of peer-reviewed studies determined that 72 percent of them showed “indication of potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination.”
- Duke University researchers found elevated and sometimes dangerous levels of methane in drinking water wells near fracking operations.
Evidence of fracking’s harms isn’t limited to independent scientific studies. State regulators in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and New Mexico alone have documented more than 1,000 cases of surface and groundwater contamination linked to fracking and other oil and gas development.
The EPA study released today reflects pressure from Congress and the oil and gas industry to severely limit its scope.
Over the course of five years, the industry succeeded in watering down the study by refusing to allow baseline testing -- an account of the chemicals present in groundwater before drilling began. One of the companies that had initially agreed to testing, Chesapeake Energy, lobbied the EPA to limit when and where they could test, EPA documents show.
The study also fails to examine how underground injection of wastewater containing toxic and even cancer-causing chemicals threatens our rivers, streams and drinking water.
Fracking wastewater – often laced with heavy metals, such as lead and arsenic, and radioactive material, such as radon and uranium – returns to the surface in huge volumes, yet there is no safe, sustainable way of dealing with this toxic waste.
EPA does acknowledge that treatment of toxic wastewater is a “vulnerability” of fracking. Other vulnerabilities identified in the study include the strain it puts on water resources, the potential for chemicals to migrate underground, and instances of water contamination.
The list of fracking’s vulnerabilities is long indeed, which is why Environment America has long called for the practice to be banned.
“The only way to protect our drinking water and communities from fracking is to end our reliance on dirty oil and gas, and use clean energy instead,” said Richardson