The EPA report notes concerns over well leaks and waste water spilling above ground; however, it failed to specify any damage associated with the underground fracking process itself.
“What we found is that although the overall incidents of impacts is low, that there are vulnerabilities,” said EPA science adviser Thomas Burke.
Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth and injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals to release the gas inside. This process can be carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally to create new pathways or extend existing channels to release gas.
Most modern fracking wells employ a combination of hydraulic fracturing, which has been in use since the 1940s, and horizontal drilling, a technique that first become widespread in the 1990s.
The report takes a tougher stance on fracking than ever before. Language in an earlier draft that downplayed environmental concerns was scrapped. It said: “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”
Burke explains why EPA omitted the verbiage:
“The gaps in information unfortunately do not allow us to say how much, what is the rate of the impact. And so that sentence was removed,” he said.
The report determined that fracking impacts drinking water supplies in the following situations:
- When water is withdrawn in times or areas of low water availability (particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources);
- Spills during the management of fracking fluids that result in large volumes of chemicals reaching groundwater resources;
- High-pressure injection of fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity;
- Injecting fracking fluids directly into groundwater resources;
- Discharge of untreated fracking wastewater to surface water resources, and
- Disposal or storage of wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.
All of these scenarios could result in contamination of groundwater resources, according to the EPA. However, as damning as the report may appear to the fracking industry, the agency itself will admit that it’s far from the final word on the matter.
Huge gaps in data on fracking activities hindered the EPA’s ability to accurately report on its potential impacts on drinking water. Comprehensive data on fracking is either not collected, not publicly available, or is prohibitively difficult to aggregate, according to the agency.
Oil industry reps argue that plenty of data exists which proves that fracking is safe. The American Petroleum Institute (API), a major lobbying group, blasted EPA’s latest report.
“The science and data clearly demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing does not lead to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” said Eric Milito, API’s upstream director.
Meanwhile, environmental groups claim the report confirms what they’ve been saying all along.
Source: CBS News