The US EPA released a draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources earlier this month. Although still only a draft, the document marks a noticeable shift in how EPA views fracking – from basically denying that fracking posed any risk to drinking water and human health, to acknowledging that, “there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources”. I, for one, cannot believe that EPA had the guts to do this.
Don’t get me wrong; the draft assessment still makes a weak statement with regards to the real impacts of fracking on drinking water. However, the statement carries major credibility and importance due to the fact that the draft assessment is the most comprehensive review of literature on the potential impacts of fracking on drinking water to date, having examined nearly 1,000 different science and engineering journals, federal and state government reports, nongovernmental organization reports, industry publications, and federal and state datasets.
Although EPA states that there is no evidence that fracking activities have led to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States”, they clearly acknowledge that they have the ability to do so at the local level. This is a bit obvious, since we are not experiencing massive water shortages or national pandemics due to fracking (at least not yet), yet it is well documented that millions of people across the nation have experienced water contamination due to fracking activities in their local environments. Therefore, if we take EPA’s statement into perspective, they are effectively saying that fracking can and has affected local drinking water sources across the country.
This is heresy for industry, and the full wrath of their criticism is sure to fall on EPA in the coming weeks. During the document’s public comment period, the oil and gas industry will move mountains to ensure that EPA’s modest claims attributing fault to fracking for drinking water contamination are removed from the final document.
As an idealist, I have hope that EPA will withstand the storm and stand up for what the science has revealed. However, in all likelihood, the billions of dollars at the disposal of industry will ensure that EPA softens their already weak stance or retracts it altogether.
My hope is that environmental organizations and the public at large fight this and tell EPA not to be bullied by corporate interests. Public comments on the draft assessment are open until August 28, so we can all weight in on the fight. EPA is taking baby steps towards finally accepting that fracking has huge inherent dangers to public health and this is among the first of these steps. It falls to us to take EPA’s hand and help it learn to walk.