On Wednesday, the US EPA issued what appears to be their final assessment of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. The agency had suffered major criticism from the public, the environmental community and even their own Science Advisory Board (SAB) on the first release of their assessment, which stated that fracking had “no widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water supplies.” In their revised report, the EPA clearly and directly acknowledges that “hydraulic fracturing can impact drinking water resources.”
This take two by the EPA is welcome news for me and for many others who advocate daily to secure protections for clean air and water for communities with fracking operations. Today, in an age where facts and science don’t seem to matter, it is gratifying to know that science has persevered over politics at the highest levels of leadership at the EPA.
But this revision and acknowledgement of the shortcomings of the initial study didn’t come easy. Scientists on the EPA’s own advisory board had to risk putting the agency in a negative light by taking a stand for science. Journalists had to report deeply on this topic. And advocates and experts on oil and gas policy across the country had to speak up.
When EPA started this study in 2011, they were asked by Congress to scientifically assess the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water.
Here are the main findings from the EPA’s final, revised water study report, as presented in the agency’s own slidedeck:
- Hydraulic fracturing can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances
- Examples of impacts were identified for all stages of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle
- Impacts can range in frequency and severity, depending on the combination of hydraulic fracturing activities and local or regional-scale factors
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