EPA releases final report on fracing, drinking water

Dec. 19, 2016
The US Environmental Protection Agency released its final report on impacts from hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells on drinking water supplies on Dec. 13.

The US Environmental Protection Agency released its final report on impacts from hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells on drinking water supplies on Dec. 13. The American Petroleum Institute strongly criticized what it considered "abandonment of science" in EPA's revising conclusions in a June 2015 draft after the agency's Scientific Advisory Board raised questions about the findings (OGJ Online, Aug. 15, 2016).

The draft did not find evidence that above-ground and underground fracing mechanisms that potentially could affect drinking water resources had led to widespread, systematic impacts. The final report concluded that fracing activities can affect drinking water supplies under some circumstances, including:

• Water withdrawals for fracing in times or areas when water availability is low, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources.

• Spills during the handling of fracing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources.

• Injection of fracing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources.

• Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources.

• Discharge of inadequately treated fracing wastewater to surface water.

• Disposal or storage of fracing wastewater in unlined pits resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.

"Data gaps and uncertainties limited EPA's ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water resources locally and nationally," the report's abstract said. "Because of these data gaps and uncertainties, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of impacts, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle."

In response to the report's conclusions, API Upstream Director Erik Milito said, "It is beyond absurd for the administration to reverse course on its way out the door. The agency has walked away from nearly a thousand sources of information from published papers, technical reports, and peer-reviewed scientific reports demonstrating that industry practices, industry trends, and regulatory programs protect water resources at every step of the hydraulic fracturing process."

Milito said, "Decisions like this amplify the public's frustrations with Washington. Fortunately, the science and data clearly demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing does not lead to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources. Unfortunately, consumers have witnessed 5 years and millions of dollars expended only to see conclusion based in science changed to a conclusion based in political ambiguity."

Milito added, "We look forward to working with the new administration in order to instill fact-based science back into the public policy process."

About the Author

Nick Snow

NICK SNOW covered oil and gas in Washington for more than 30 years. He worked in several capacities for The Oil Daily and was founding editor of Petroleum Finance Week before joining OGJ as its Washington correspondent in September 2005 and becoming its full-time Washington editor in October 2007. He retired from OGJ in January 2020.