Political Pressure Seen Behind EPA Fracking-Water Report

Industry observers say political pressure is likely behind the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement Tuesday that hydraulic fracturing impacts drinking water in some situations.

In June 2015, EPA reported it didn’t find evidence that hydraulic fracturing had resulted in widespread, systemic impacts on U.S. drinking water resources. EPA also said that the number of identified cases where drinking water resources were impacted were small versus the number of hydraulically fractured wells.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) said EPA’s final report ignores the nearly 1,000 sources of information from published papers, technical reports and peer reviewed scientific reports showing that oil and gas industry practices, industry trends and regulatory programs protect water resources at every step of the hydraulic fracturing process.

“Fortunately, the science and data clearly demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing does not lead to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” API Upstream Director Erik Milito said in a Dec. 13 press statement. “Unfortunately, consumers have witnessed five years and millions of dollars expended only to see conclusion based in science changed to a conclusion based in political ambiguity.”

The situation of politics co-opting evidence has occurred throughout the Obama administration, including the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access pipeline decisions, both of which were initially approved by relevant government agencies, Merrill Matthews, a resident scholar with the Dallas-based Institute for Policy Innovation, said in a Dec. 13 press statement.

The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers said the agency’s final report is flawed, noting the agency admitted it didn’t have enough data to fully explain the groundwater contamination. The EPA’s recent report ignores the fact that tens of thousands of wells have been hydrofractured in Texas, with no groundwater aquifers contaminated as a result, the Alliance reported in a Dec. 13 press statement.

Hydraulic fracturing is a mature technology that has been in place for nearly a decade, John Tintera, executive vice president for the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, told Rigzone that the EPA should leave the regulation and analysis of hydraulic fracturing’s impact on drinking water to state regulators, who have first-hand field experience.

The report – conducted the report at the request of U.S. Congress – identifies potential impacts through the water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, the handling of produced water,and water disposal and reuse, EPA said in a Dec. 13 release.

In the report, EPA outlined conditions in which hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe. These conditions include water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources.

Other situations include:

  • Spills during the management of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater
  • Injecting hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, letting gases or liquids to move to groundwater
  • Injecting hydraulic fluids directly into groundwater
  • Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water
  • Disposal of storage or hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in ground water contamination

EPA also said that data is lacking that prevented it from fully assessing the impacts of drinking water resources locally and nationally. This includes information on above and below-ground locations of water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing.

It also includes:

  • Surface locations of hydraulically fractured wells
  • Below-ground locations of hydraulic fracturing, including data on fracture growth
  • Locations of hydraulic fracturing wastewater management practices, including disposal of treatment residuals

In the new report, EPA said it provided clarification for major findings and specifically linked major findings to supporting information provided in individual chapters. The agency also reviewed literature published since the completion of EPA’s external review draft report; more than 200 citations were added as a result of the review, agency spokesperson Christie St. Clair told Rigzone. EPA also added nearly 400 chemicals to the list of chemicals associated with hydraulic fracturing. The additional chemicals reflect the additional information for the chemical composition of produced water.

The final report also provides additional background on U.S. drinking water resources, and highlights uncertainties and data gaps that limited the agency’s ability to fully assess impacts, St. Clair said.

EPA’s final assessment is the most complete compilation so far of national scientific data on the link between drinking water, Dr. Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s science advisor and deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, said in a Dec. 13 press statement.

“The value of high quality science has never been more important in helping to guide decisions around our nation’s fragile water resources,” Burke commented.


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