EPA Releases Draft Assessment on the Potential Impacts to Drinking Water Resources from Hydraulic Fracturing Activities
Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.
Washington, DC —The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing a draft assessment today on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources in the United States. The assessment, done at the request of Congress, shows that while hydraulic fracturing activities in the U.S. are carried out in a way that have not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources, there are potential vulnerabilities in the water lifecycle that could impact drinking water. The assessment follows the water used for hydraulic fracturing from water acquisition, chemical mixing at the well pad site, well injection of fracking fluids, the collection of hydraulic fracturing wastewater (including flowback and produced water), and wastewater treatment and disposal [see image above].
“EPA’s draft assessment will give state regulators, tribes and local communities and industry around the country a critical resource to identify how best to protect public health and their drinking water resources,” said Dr. Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s Science Advisor and Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “It is the most complete compilation of scientific data to date, including over 950 sources of information, published papers, numerous technical reports, information from stakeholders and peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports.”
EPA’s review of data sources available to the agency found specific instances where well integrity and waste water management related to hydraulic fracturing activities impacted drinking water resources, but they were small compared to the large number of hydraulically fractured wells across the country. The report provides valuable information about potential vulnerabilities, some of which are not unique to hydraulic fracturing, to drinking water resources, but was not designed to be a list of documented impacts.
These vulnerabilities to drinking water resources include:
- water withdrawals in areas with low water availability;
- hydraulic fracturing conducted directly into formations containing drinking water resources;
- inadequately cased or cemented wells resulting in below ground migration of gases and liquids;
- inadequately treated wastewater discharged into drinking water resources;
- and spills of hydraulic fluids and hydraulic fracturing wastewater, including flowback and produced water.
Also released today were nine peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports. These reports were a part of EPA’s overall hydraulic fracturing drinking water study and contributed to the findings outlined in the draft assessment. Over 20 peer-reviewed articles or reports were published as part of this study.
States play a primary role in regulating most natural gas and oil development. EPA’s authority is limited by statutory or regulatory exemptions under the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Where EPA’s exemptions exist, states may have authority to regulate unconventional oil and gas extraction activities under their own state laws.
EPA’s draft assessment benefited from extensive stakeholder engagement conducted across the country with states, tribes, industry, non-governmental organizations, the scientific community and the public to ensure that the draft assessment reflects current practices in hydraulic fracturing and utilizes all data and information available to the agency.
The study will be finalized after review by the Science Advisory Board and public review and comment. The Federal Register Notice with information on the SAB review and how to comment on the draft assessment will be published on Friday June 5, 2015.
Click here for a copy of the study: Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas and Its Potential Impact on Drinking Water Resources.
Click here to submit comments on the report.
EPA study reveals fracking pollutes water
Despite investigation weakened by oil and gas industry obstructionism, EPA confirms what communities living with fracking have known for almost a decade
Washington DC — In a watershed moment, today EPA announced fracking does pollute drinking water with the release of the draft final version of its study of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas and Its Potential Impact on Drinking Water Resources. Congress commissioned the study in 2010 in response to increasing public questions about the risks posed to drinking water by the unconventional oil and gas boom.
In 2004, an EPA study concluded that hydraulic fracturing does not threaten drinking water. From that conclusion, Congress exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act. The 2004 study was maligned within the EPA and by independent scientists. The current study was intended to revisit the conclusions of the 2004 study.
“Today EPA confirmed what communities living with fracking have known for years, fracking pollutes drinking water,” said Earthworks Policy Director Lauren Pagel. She continued, “Now the Obama administration, Congress, and state governments must act on that information to protect our drinking water, and stop perpetuating the oil and gas industry’s myth that fracking is safe.”
Through its own research conducted between 2008 and 2010, EPA knew fracking very likely polluted groundwater in Pavillion, WY, Weatherford, TX, and Dimock, PA. EPA’s conclusions in today’s announcement was based on new case studies and found several contamination pathways and vulnerabilities, including well failures and blowouts, toxic surface spills to ground and surface water, and inadequately treated wastewater.
One of the most important parts of the original study was to be “forward looking studies”: tests of wells before and after fracking to determine if it polluted area drinking water. These forward looking studies were ultimately dropped because industry refused to cooperate.
“Industry data and independent studies tell us that 1 – 6% of unconventional fracked wells fail immediately, meaning tens of thousands of failed wells litter our country. Despite industry’s obstruction, EPA found that fracking pollutes water in a number of ways. That’s why industry didn’t cooperate, they know fracking is an inherently risky, dirty process that doesn’t bear close, independent examination.”
EPA will circulate this draft final to the study Science Advisory Board for peer review, and to the public for comment. Based upon that review, EPA will make final revisions to the study prior to final publication.
For more information:
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: The Integrity of Oil and Gas Wells
- Earthworks: The Halliburton Loophole and inadequate regulation of hydraulic fracturing
- EPA: 2004 fracking study (Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reservoirs Study)
- EPA: Study of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas and Its Potential Impact on Drinking Water Resources
- 2004 Letter from EPA employee Weston Wilson to Colorado Congressional delegation regarding EPA hydraulic fracturing study