U.S. EPA: Fracking Not A Widespread Risk To Drinking Water

Jun 5, 2015

A federal report has re-animated the discussion of hydrofracking in New York State.

Governor Andrew Cuomo took a stance on the issue in December 2014, after six years of a de facto moratorium, when a long-awaited health impact study was released by New York State acting Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, who said “I cannot support high volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York.”

The fracking debate has been rekindled by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draft report released Thursday that finds fracking for shale oil and gas has not led to widespread pollution of drinking water.

The study, five years in the making, was solicited by Congress. It concedes some drilling operations could contaminate drinking water but only under specific conditions. One example would be if fracking fluids used to expedite gas extraction entered the water table.  The EPA pointed out the number of such cases was small compared with the overall number of wells employing hydraulic fracturing, the technology that allows for drilling for oil and gas reserves that previously had been inaccessible to man.

The American Petroleum Institute says the study affirms the sector's record of "continuous safety improvements."

The Business Council of New York says the paper proves fracking is safe and is calling upon Department of Environmental Commissioner Joseph Martens to overturn the state's recently imposed ban.

New York State Business council director of government affairs Darren Suarez says the report highlights that DOH and DEC were wrong when they gave up on drilling in the Empire State.  "The recent EPA report re-affirms what DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in 2011 regarding natural gas drilling, when he stated that there had been a 'handful of bad experiences and the DEC can isolate and correct those instances.' The EPA report confirms what top scientists have said all along, that fracking is safe and has no widespread impact on drinking water."

Environmental groups argue the EPA report shows that fracking remains a danger, and requires further study. John Armstrong with Frack Action argues that the EPA study confirms what the oil and gas industry has long denied:    "...that fracking poisons drinking water. Along with hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, this shows that New York was right to ban fracking. Despite serious shortcomings, including the fact that the oil and gas industry refused access to collect the data needed, the EPA study clearly shows that fracking has been impacting and contaminating drinking water.  All water is connected. The contaminations of drinking water documented in this far from comprehensive study are very alarming as they signal the potential for a future public health crisis."

A Natural Resources Defense Council policy analyst told Reuters the report marks the first time the EPA acknowledged the potential to poison drinking water.

The EPA itself notes the issue (and the report) is not about the safety of fracking, but rather about reducing 'vulnerabilities' with the aim of protecting water and water resources.

Asked to comment on the EPA paper, New York State DEC Spokesperson Tom Mailey emailed a response, which states in part that "... the state review was much broader -- examining impacts to air, water, public health, ecosystems, wildlife and community character. Our review identified many potential significant adverse impacts."

The EPA maintains that states are in the best position to make decisions regarding high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

To submit comments on the EPA report, see http://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/fedrgstr_activites/HF%20Drinking%20Water%20Assessment?OpenDocument

EPA Fracking Report June 2015 by The Post-Standard