EPA: Fracking has no widespread impact on drinking water

fracking UK

Credit: Day Blakely Donaldson

RALEIGH – Supporters of energy exploration say they are vindicated today after the Environmental Protection Agency released findings on Thursday that said fracking has no widespread effect on drinking water. The EPA study took four years and cost millions of dollars.

“It is the most complete compilation of scientific data to date, including over 950 sources of information, published papers, numerous technical reports, information from stakeholders and peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports,” said Tom Burke, EPA’s deputy assistant administrator of research and development.

“This new study clearly demonstrates that hydraulic fracturing has been done safely and responsibly for the past 65 years and continues being conducted in that manner today,” said David McGowan, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Council. “Existing federal regulations and robust state rules, like those we have in place here in North Carolina, are effectively protecting public health and the environment.”

The EPA’s findings corroborate what North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources found in a 2012 study. The study was ordered by the N.C. General Assembly to examine the potential of shale gas in North Carolina and make regulatory recommendations.

“That it is exactly what we planned. If it’s done properly, water is not an issue,” said State Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Matthews), a major driver of getting rules for hydraulic fracturing created for North Carolina.

Rucho also said that even though the EPA study was based on fracking in states that mostly have more industry-friendly rules, North Carolina should not back away from its more strict rule set.

“The industry has said [North Carolina’s rules] are fair standards and we’re going to stick by that,” said Rucho. “If they can still do their job efficiently, there’s no reason to change.”

“It’s not a question of safe or unsafe. It’s a question of understanding vulnerabilities so we can address those vulnerabilities and practice hydraulic fracturing in the safest possible way,” the EPA’s Burke told reporters in a media conference call on Thursday.  “The number of documented impacts to drinking water is relatively low when compared to the number of fractured wells.”

That low number of documented impacts are what fracking opponents still insist require more study.  In the study, the EPA said that their data was limited. Opponents say that the wastewater generated by hydraulic fracturing could contaminate rivers and groundwater. New York and Maryland have already banned fracking outright.

The EPA study is a draft and must still be reviewed by the agency’s Scientific Advisory Board. But supporters of hydraulic fracturing say it is key to an economic boom and energy independence. They believe this study is a huge step in the right direction.

“Jobs are being created, the economy is being stimulated and American consumers are seeing the positive impacts of lower gas prices and cheaper electricity bills – all thanks to hydraulic fracturing,” said McGowan.

Reached today, DENR spokeswoman Crystal Feldman said the state agency is reviewing the study and would not have further comment at this time.

“DENR has concluded that information available to date suggests that production of natural gas by mean of hydraulic fracturing can be done safely as long as the right protections are in place,” the report stated.

The N.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club did not return messages Friday seeking comment.