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Politics trumped science in EPA fracking and drinking water study

Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came under fire for misleading the public on the effects of fracking on our drinking water. American Public Media (APM) released an investigative report showing the EPA made “eleventh-hour changes” to their fracking and drinking water study, essentially downplaying the known events of contamination.

When the EPA released its fracking and drinking water report last June, the news cycle was dominated by a single headline: “EPA study finds fracking has not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water.” The oil and gas industry paraded the headline as proof that fracking was safe, using the “results” as an attempt to silence environmentalists and concerned landowners.

We fought against the industry portrayal and published our own blog highlighting that the EPA’s report indeed showed concrete examples of drinking water contamination from fracking. I documented specific findings to show the headlines were misleading and irresponsible. Later, the EPA’s own science advisory board validated the OEC’s analysis, telling the EPA to all but throw the report out and start over.

APM’s in-depth investigation found several key faults in the EPA’s finalization and release of their study. Here are just a few of them: there

  • “Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places” than final drafts, suggesting industry influence
  • The EPA’s study specifically “identified more than two dozen instances in which hydraulic fracturing had an impact on water resources”, but the press release by the EPA for the study proposed there were only “potential impacts to drinking water resources from hydraulic fracturing activities”
  • The $29 million study was released stating “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms [in fracking] have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States”, yet earlier versions highlighted contaminated drinking water and vulnerabilities from fracking

Why the beating around the bush? This is a clear case of politics trumping science, and in this case, there’s potential for grave effects on public health and the environment. There are serious concerns that the EPA’s decision to minimize the vulnerabilities to water has reduced the urgency for government regulators and oil and gas companies to push to make the process safer.

The public deserves better.

Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry’s take on the EPA’s study is still the dominant talking point around whether and how fracking affects drinking water. Help us set the record straight today and make sure that politics does not trump science. Share this story far and wide.