As the clock ticks away on the Obama administration, officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are trying to set the record straight on the agency’s landmark effort to study the potential water quality impacts of the nation’s natural gas boom.
Here’s the announcement today from the EPA press office:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing its scientific report on the impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources, which provides states and others the scientific foundation to better protect drinking water resources in areas where hydraulic fracturing is occurring or being considered. The report, done at the request of Congress, provides scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances. As part of the report, EPA identified conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe. The report also identifies uncertainties and data gaps. These uncertainties and data gaps limited EPA’s ability to fully assess impacts to drinking water resources both locally and nationally. These final conclusions are based upon review of over 1,200 cited scientific sources; feedback from an independent peer review conducted by EPA’s Science Advisory Board; input from engaged stakeholders; and new research conducted as part of the study.
That’s quite different from the announcement EPA issued more than a year ago, when it published a draft version of this report:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing a draft assessment today on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources in the United States. The assessment, done at the request of Congress, shows that while hydraulic fracturing activities in the U.S. are carried out in a way that have not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources, there are potential vulnerabilities in the water lifecycle that could impact drinking water. The assessment follows the water used for hydraulic fracturing from water acquisition, chemical mixing at the well pad site, well injection of fracking fluids, the collection of hydraulic fracturing wastewater (including flowback and produced water), and wastewater treatment and disposal.
Readers may recall that we reported at the time, in June 2015, that even the draft EPA report really indicated that the data just wasn’t there to make sweeping conclusions about the safety of this industrial activity, and at the time EPA scientists admitted as much to any reporter who bothered to ask. Today’s new, final report follows strong criticism of the draft by the EPA Science Advisory Board (read the final SAB review here), and a recent story by Marketplace that detailed some of the behind-the-scenes moves that led to the incorrect spin back in 2015.
Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s science adviser and deputy assistance administrator for research and development, said today:
The value of high quality science has never been more important in helping to guide decisions around our nation’s fragile water resources. EPA’s assessment provides the scientific foundation for local decision makers, industry, and communities that are looking to protect public health and drinking water resources and make more informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing activities. This assessment is the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on the relationship of drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing.