Thought Piece

The scientific foundation to better protect drinking water resources during fracking

EPA releases final report on fracking’s drinking water impacts

December 14, 2016 | By Patrick C. Miller

Industry groups harshly criticized the EPA for changing the conclusions of its scientific report on how fracking impacts drinking water, but the report is expected to have little impact on oil and gas operations in North Dakota.

Lynn Helms, North Dakota Dept. of Mineral Resources director, said the circumstances the EPA identified as potentially impacting drinking water are already addressed by state regulations and policies. PHOTO: ROCKPILE ENERGY SERVICESThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) revised final report on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water was released this week, drawing mixed reactions from industry groups and regulators.EPA identified conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe. The report also identifies uncertainties and data gaps that the agency said limit its ability to fully assess impacts to drinking water resources locally and nationally.The American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) were critical of the EPA for initially finding that fracking had no “widespread or system impacts on drinking water,” but then asking its Scientific Advisory Board to change that conclusion.API was harshly critical of the EPA, saying that it had abandoned science by revising the conclusions of its original assessment report on hydraulic fracturing.However, in his initial review of the EPA’s final report, Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said he didn’t expect it to have much impact on the state’s oil and gas industry.All that changed, according to Helms, are the report’s conclusions, which now state that under six particular circumstances, fracking can impact drinking water. Two of the circumstances don’t apply to North Dakota and the other four are already covered by policies and rules implemented by the state since 2012, he said.A full copy of the report is available here:

“We’re glad to have that study behind us and glad to be able to report that we’ve already addressed all of the circumstances that it highlights,” Helms said. “We’re hoping that we can move on.”

“This is a report that’s been six years and $29 million in the making,” he noted. “Interestingly enough, the revised final report—following the scientific advisory board’s looking at it—really hasn’t changed; it’s essentially the same report.”

“It is beyond absurd for the administration to reverse course on its way out the door,” said Erik Milito, API upstream director. “The agency has walked away from nearly a thousand sources of information from published papers, technical reports and peer reviewed scientific reports demonstrating that industry practices, industry trends, and regulatory programs protect water resources at every step of the hydraulic fracturing process. Decisions like this amplify the public’s frustrations with Washington.”

Merrill Matthews, IPI resident scholar, said the EPA statement “clearly shows the agency’s final position on fracking and drinking water has been co-opted by the environmental movement, as many other recent federal agency findings have been, such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, both of which were initially greenlighted by the relevant agencies.”

“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,” according to an EPA news release.

The agency said the report—done at the request of Congress—provides states and others “the scientific foundation to better protect drinking water resources in areas where hydraulic fracturing is occurring or being considered.”