EPA recently released a draft of a highly anticipated study on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) that may seem like a triumph for the natural gas industry, as it found no evidence of “widespread, systemic impacts” on water sources—but take that conclusion with a grain of salt. The study also established that fracking activities are a potential risk to drinking water resources. Some of the potentially harmful effects listed include inadequately treated wastewater, spills of fluids or wastewater and fracking in areas with low water availability.
Fans of fracking have tried to spin the study in the industry’s favor, overlooking the study’s acknowledgment of risk. The American Petroleum Institute tweetedshortly after the release of the draft that the study “confirms safety” in fracking. Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) insists that the results prove that fracking is “not a threat to drinking water.”
But this is simply not true—the study itself says that fracking does pose a threat, and environmental advocates continue to admonish fracking. The Sierra Club released a statement insisting that the study confirms the risks of fracking, whether or not they are “widespread,” and called for more bans and moratoriums of the practice.
We already knew that fracking can affect groundwater based on other studies. A Duke University study in 2013 found methane in 82% of sampled drinking water, with the concentration increasing 6 times within a kilometer of natural gas wells. A University of Texas-Arlington study from the same year also found a connection between proximity to gas extraction sites and heavy metals in groundwater.
When the study reports no evidence of “widespread” harm, it meant that instances of harm were relatively low compared to the number of natural gas wells. But even if that ratio is small, the potential effects could reach a large amount of people: the study mentioned that “between 2000 and 2013, 9.4 million people lived within one mile” of a fracked well.
The draft study has been five years in the making, but it needs to go through external review before it is finalized. The agency’s Science Advisory Board will peer review the study, reportedly by next year.
Sofia Crutchfield, Intern