The US Finally Admitted That Fracking Contaminates Drinking Water

By George Dvorsky on at

A new report by the US Environmental Protection Agency concludes that hydraulic fracturing is capable of contaminating drinking water at virtually every stage in the process. The admission won’t sit well with the Tories or US President-elect Donald Trump, both of whom have vowed to expand the controversial practice.

In a preliminary report released just last year, the EPA said there’s “no evidence that fracking systemically contaminates [drinking] water.” Just a year later, the agency has performed an about-face, admitting there’s sufficient scientific evidence linking the controversial practice to tainted drinking water. The ESA’s final conclusions were based upon a review of over 1,200 cited scientific sources, feedback from an independent peer review, and 13 new peer-reviewed reports conducted as part of the study.

Hydraulic fracturing involves the injection of water and other chemicals deep underground where the resulting high-pressure causes cracks to form in the shale rock, allowing oil and gas to trickle into a wellbore. Alarmingly, the EPA found that fracking contributes to drinking water contamination during all stages of the process:

  • Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources
  • 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 resources
  • Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources
  • Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources
  • Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water resources
  • Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources

The EPA admits that “data gaps and uncertainties” are limiting its ability to fully evaluate the impacts of fracking on the nation’s water resources, saying more research is needed. That said, the environmental agency says it can no longer support its earlier conclusion stating there’s insufficient evidence linking the two.

Sadly, this report was issued a little too late for the USA. Donald Trump will either criticise the report for its apparent inadequacies or choose to ignore it altogether. Worse still, and with the help of his new administration's new appointment, he may gut the EPA to prevent inconvenient reports like this from coming out in the first place.

Here in the UK approval to extract shale gas was only granted at the start of October. The Conservative Party remain the only political party to actively back fracking, and UKIP leader Paul Nuttall welcomed the go-ahead when it was announced. Hopefully this report will help change a few minds in Westminster. [EPA, New York Times]