Scientific Board Requests More Data on EPA Fracking, Water Study

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) draft assessment of hydraulic fracturing’s impact on drinking water is lacking in several critical areas, scientific advisors working with EPA have concluded.

The Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) – which includes members of academia, industry and interest groups – found EPA’s overall assessment approach to the hydraulic fracturing water cycle (HFWC) to be comprehensive. However, the SAB stated in an Aug. 11 letter that more information from EPA was needed to support the draft assessment’s conclusions.

In a report released last year, EPA said it did not find evidence that potential mechanisms by which fracking could impact drinking water had led to widespread, systemic impacts on U.S. drinking water resources. EPA also stated in the June 2015 report that the number of identified cases where drinking water resources were affected were small compared with the number of hydraulically fractured wells.

The SAB said it was particularly concerned that EPA did not support quantitatively in its conclusion about the lack of evidence of widespread, systemic impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources and failed to describe the systems of interest, impact scale, or definitions of systemic and widespread.

“The final Assessment Report should make clear that while the hydraulic fracturing industry is rapidly evolving, with changes in the processes being employed, the Assessment necessarily was developed with the data available at a point in time.”

The EPA developed the draft Assessment Report in response to a 2009 request by U.S. Congress, which had urged EPA to look at the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources.

Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners LLC, told Rigzone that the board’s recommendation was written by a group of people that didn’t agree. Some people in the group believe EPA was biased, some believe EPA was dead-on. But they did agree on one thing: that the EPA can do a better job of showing its work.

Book said he would be very surprised if EPA would be able to quickly turn out a final assessment report quickly, noting that, in Washington, a big pile of paper is needed to answer another big pile of paper justifying a point of view.

SAB recommends EPA delineate these planned activities within the final Assessment Report and explain why they were not conducted or completed.

The board's request that EPA do more research on its broad conclusions about fracking not creating widespread, systematic drinking water problems is not surprising, Baird Equity Research analysts said in an Aug. 12 note. Analysts cited the request "as the absence of identifiable sub-surface groundwater harm from fracking does not fit the dominant anti-political oil and gas narrative."

The American Petroleum Institute (API) said in an Aug. 12 press statement that the EPA’s draft Assessment report affirms scientific data – which includes more than 950 sources of information, published papers, numerous technical reports, information from stakeholders and peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports – showing no widespread, systemic impact on the quality of drinking water.

“The science is clear and the studies are completed,” said Erik Milito, API upstream and industry operations director, in the press statement. “Instead of denying the scientific evidence proving the environmental benefits of hydraulic fracturing, the United States should be celebrating the overwhelming data demonstrating that hydraulic fracturing is helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other emissions, and has helped lower energy costs for consumers.”

Using national-level analyses and perspective is appropriate, but the final Assessment Report “should recognize that many stresses to surface or groundwater resources associated with stages of the HFWC are often localized in space and temporary in time, but can nevertheless be important and significant,” SAB stated, noting that the impacts of water acquisition will predominately be felt locally in small spaces and time scales.

“These local-level potential impacts have the potential to be severe, and the final Assessment Report needs to better characterize and recognize the importance of local impacts, especially since locally important impacts are unlikely to be captured in a national-level summary of impacts.”


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