Dec 6, 2016 by

Pictured to the right: A map of existing fracking wells in Ohio. Source: Frac Tracker Alliance

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA) recently released study of fracking impacts to water clearly refutes the fracking industry’s long-standing claim that “there has not been one single confirmed case of water contamination related to hydraulic fracturing.”

In a thorough debunking of the industry’s favorite talking point, US EPA officially confirmed that hydraulic fracturing activities have directly and irrefutably led to cases of water contamination in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Northeastern Pennsylvania, and Killdeer, North Dakota.

Below is a brief summary of the findings in each of these areas. It should be noted that US EPA found clear evidence of water contamination in 3 of the 5 case studies explored in the study:

  • Southwestern Pennsylvania: US EPA found increased levels of chloride in ground water at locations near an impoundment site which was used to store hydraulic fracturing drilling wastes and wastewaters. US EPA noted that, “the chloride contamination likely originates from the impoundment site based on multiple lines of evidence.”
  • Northeastern Pennsylvania: US EPA found, using multiple lines of evidence, that 9 drinking water wells were impacted by stray gas (methane and ethane) from nearby hydraulic fracturing activities.
  • Killdeer, North Dakota: US EPA found the presence of brine and tertiary butyl alcohol (TBA) in two monitoring wells in the Killdeer aquifer. According to the US EPA, “the only potential source consistent with the TBA and brine at the two monitoring wells was the blowout during hydraulic fracturing that occurred in Killdeer, ND.”

In 2 of the other case studies in the Raton Basin of Colorado and in Wise County, Texas, US EPA could not draw definitive links between the negative water impacts studied (gas migration, TBA in domestic water wells, and the presence of brines in domestic water wells) and hydraulic fracturing activities. Though, hydraulic fracturing also could not be ruled out as the source of contamination in these cases.

US EPA also highlighted the significant vulnerabilities of the water life cycle to hydraulic fracturing activities. According to US EPA, our water resources are vulnerable during every single stage of the hydraulic fracturing process. This includes during water withdrawals, when chemicals are being mixed with water, when the well is being “fracked,” when fracking fluids and flowback come back up to the surface, and when the fracking fluids are being treated and transported for disposal.

Not surprisingly, the oil and gas industry has completely mischaracterized the results of the study. US EPA took a very cautious – some might say overly cautious – approach to revealing the results of the study, announcing it found no evidence of “systemic” or “widespread” impacts to drinking water.

But, instead of acknowledging the real problems uncovered in the research, the oil and gas industry has inaccurately cited it as proof that fracking poses no threat to our water. The industry is playing fast and loose with the facts, per usual.

US EPA officials have come out publically against this complete mischaracterization of the results. In an interview with the Charleston Gazette, EPA science advisor and deputy administrator Thomas Burke said:

“The message of this report is that we have identified vulnerabilities in the water system that are really important to know about and address to keep risks as low as possible.”

While the findings of this study are revealing in a number of ways, they are by no means comprehensive. Some of the limits of the research include:

  • insufficient pre and post fracturing data on drinking water resources;
  • a paucity of long-term systematic studies;
  • the presence of other sources of contamination which prevent determining a definitive link between hydraulic fracturing and water impacts; and
  • inaccessibility to information on hydraulic fracturing activities (i.e. fracking companies refusing to cooperate with the US EPA’s research efforts)

Additionally, the study didn’t consider the variety of other impacts related to fracking, which the state of New York considered before issuing a ban on the practice. These include hydraulic fracturing’s impacts to air, soil, ecosystems, wildlife, public health and communities.

As a citizenry we demand laws from our public officials to protect us when industry poses significant risks to public health.  Vehicle safety laws and public smoking bans are just a few examples.

The US EPA study highlights that fracking is not only a significant threat to water, but a threat to public health and quality of life for thousands of people across the country. The time is right to put protections in place in Ohio to ensure our drinking water, surface water, and air are protected from the inherent risks of fracking. That’s why we have proposed the SAFER GAS Act. Learn more about the SAFER GAS Act and current fracking issues at our Act on Fracking campaign page.

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