Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
June 2015

Vol. 1, No. 5 Week of June 14, 2015

Fracking found to be a low risk for contaminating drinking water

A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finds that the hydraulic fracturing hasn’t had “widespread” impacts on drinking water.

EPA released a draft assessment June 4 of the potential impacts to drinking water resources from hydraulic fracturing. EPA initially focused on whether the chemicals used in fracking could flow through underground cracks and into water reservoirs, but found that is a small risk factor compared to greater challenges with the physical stability of the wells and the handling of all the produced wastewater.

The report is meant to be used by federal, tribal, state and local leaders along with the public to better understand and address “any vulnerabilities,” EPA said in its summary.

“We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States,” EPA wrote. “We found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”

North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven has advocated for a “states first” approach to regulate fracking and called the report “good news” as it confirms that state standards keep fracking from harming drinking water. But critics say it still proves that fracking has the potential to do harm, and the study has too many gaps in scientific understanding.

“This study is site-specific and limited, which makes it impossible to fully understand all the risks at this time,” said Amy Mall, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

New York has taken that same position and announced that it will not lift its state-wide ban on fracking.

EPA’s studies occurred during the highest oil production in decades when as many as 30,000 hydraulically fractured wells were drilled annually between 2011 and 2014.

- Maxine Herr

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