The U.S. EPA Called Fracking Safe. Now Its Scientists Disagree

(Bloomberg) -- A landmark study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that concluded fracking causes no widespread harm to drinking water is coming under fire -- this time, from the agency’s own science advisers.

The EPA’s major finding in June’s preliminary report, that there’s no evidence fracking has led to "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water," was seen as a vindication of hydraulic fracturing. A repudiation of the results could reignite the debate over the need for more regulation.

Members of the EPA Science Advisory Board, which reviews major studies by the agency, said in a report released Thursday the agency’s main conclusion "is ambiguous and requires clarification."

The major findings "are inconsistent with the observations, data and levels of uncertainty" presented in the rest of EPA’s water study, the 31-member panel said. The panel will deliberate over the draft recommendations it issued Thursday during a public teleconference Feb. 1, and possibly further revise them before sending final advice to EPA.

The scientific panel’s recommendations aren’t binding and the EPA is not required to change its study to accommodate them. But they already are raising questions about the most comprehensive assessment yet of a practice that has driven a domestic oil and gas boom but also spawned complaints about water contamination.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency will use comments from the scientists and the public to "evaluate" possible changes to the report.

Oil Exports

A significant change could be a big blow to an industry that is celebrating major policy wins, including the end of trade restrictions that for four decades blocked the export of most raw, unprocessed U.S. crude.


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