The Environmental Protection Agency released a long-awaited report yesterday that should have far-reaching implications for the continued use of the hydraulic fracturing techniques helping to produce America’s newfound energy abundance.
In a study looking at the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water, EPA produced data revealing no evidence that fracking has any systemic groundwater impacts.
Of course, no industrial activity is ever entirely risk-free, and EPA’s scientists point out “there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources.” It’s worth noting that after this seemingly obvious caveat, EPA goes on to conclude, “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”
In fact, the extremely rare instances of contamination the EPA cited were the results of faulty well construction or disposal failures rather than anything inherent to the hydraulic fracturing process.
The EPA’s failure to find any systemic problems leading to water contamination is a big deal. It vindicates the idea that when operations are performed correctly, hydraulic fracturing poses essentially no risk to water supplies.
That flies in the face of wild charges about fracking made by environmental groups. The Sierra Club, for instance, says “Fracking has contaminated the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of Americans.”
Not so, based on the evidence compiled and studied by the EPA. Its researchers looked at nearly every link in the process – from water acquisition and chemical mixing to well injection and wastewater treatment and disposal.
The report gives a good sampling of how widespread hydraulic fracturing has become, having been done in 25 different states since 1990.
The practice has increased considerably over the last few years as energy producers combined it with new horizontal drilling techniques. The EPA estimates that between 25,000 and 30,000 wells were drilled and hydraulically fractured annually during the period from 2011-2014. Wells are often located near residences and drinking water resources. Between 2000 and 2013, approximately 9.4 million people lived within one mile of a hydraulically fractured well.
The study released yesterday – the product of five years of research – stands as a rebuke to those who call for banning hydraulic fracturing.
It represents the triumph of science and fact over emotion and histrionics. Its message should be trumpeted loudly in councils of government in the U.S. and abroad as, once again, we are reminded of the extraordinary technologies and contributions of hydraulic fracturing in our efforts to both provide energy and protect the environment.