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Science advisory panel findings may trigger EPA water study re-write

Wait, what just happened? You might be asking yourself this if you just read the Bloomberg News Headline: “EPA Science Advisors Balk at Fracking Study.”

If you remember, back in June, the US EPA released their much-anticipated study on the effects of fracking on water. EPA stated in the press statement accompanying its preliminary report that it had “found no evidence of ‘systemic’ or ‘widespread’ impacts to drinking water.” This presentation of the results created a firestorm of responses ranging from industry’s claims of exoneration to major criticisms of the study by many environmental organizations.

At OEC we responded as well. But our response was simple and direct: the EPA study most certainly did document water contamination in 3 out of 5 of the in-depth case studies the agency conducted. At the time, we said EPA was “very cautious – some might say overly cautious” in how it presented its results to the public. And now, we learn the agency’s prestigious science advisory board has come to the same conclusion.

This is a BIG deal. Why? Because it means EPA must go back to the draft report and evaluate whether to make changes to it. And the pressure is looming because the EPA Science Advisory Board is not your daughter’s science fair review panel. Rather, the 31-panel committee includes PhD scientists and academics from universities, across the country, including Yale, Carnegie Mellon, and our own The Ohio State University. This panel has asserted that the agency’s main conclusion “is ambiguous and requires clarification.”

According to the Bloomberg article, one panel scientist (Bruce Honeyman, professor emeritus at the Colorado School of Mines) stated spill data alone runs contrary to EPA’s conclusion of “no evidence of systemic, widespread damage.”

The advisory board members also want the final document to include more information about alleged contamination near drilling sites in Dimock, Pennsylvania, Parker County, Texas, and Pavillion, Wyoming.

If I were a betting woman, I would put $100 on the likelihood EPA will heed the advice of its science advisory panel and make adjustments to its top line statement. When it does, the oil and gas industry will be forced to either face the facts or begin the hypocritical process of criticizing the same EPA study it once hailed as proof of their fairy tale that fracking doesn’t cause water contamination.