Frack­ing re­port o≠ers few an­swers on drink­ing wa­ter

The Denver Post - - NATION & WORLD - By Matthew Daly

wash­ing­ton» Is hy­draulic frac­tur­ing — bet­ter known as frack­ing — safe, as the oil and gas in­dus­try claims? Or does the con­tro­ver­sial drilling tech­nique that has spurred a do­mes­tic en­ergy boom con­tam­i­nate drink­ing wa­ter, as en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and other crit­ics charge?

Af­ter six years and more than $29 mil­lion, the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency says it doesn’t know.

A new re­port is­sued Tues­day said frack­ing poses a risk to drink­ing wa­ter in some cir­cum­stances, but a lack of in­for­ma­tion pre­cludes a de­fin­i­tive state­ment on how se­vere the risk is.

“Be­cause of the sig­nif­i­cant data gaps and un­cer­tain­ties in the avail­able data, it was not pos­si­ble to fully char­ac­ter­ize the sever­ity of im­pacts, nor was it pos­si­ble to cal­cu­late or es­ti­mate the na­tional fre­quency of im­pacts on drink­ing wa­ter re­sources” from frack­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, the EPA said in a re­port that raises more ques­tions than an­swers.

The re­port re­moves a find­ing from a draft is­sued last year in­di­cat­ing that frack­ing has not caused “wide­spread, sys­temic” harm to drink­ing wa­ter in the United States. In­dus­try groups had hailed the draft EPA study as proof that frack­ing is safe, while en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists seized on the re­port’s iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of cases where frack­ingre­lated ac­tiv­i­ties pol­luted drink­ing wa­ter.

Frack­ing in­volves pump­ing huge vol­umes of wa­ter, sand and chem­i­cals un­der­ground to split open rock for­ma­tions so oil and gas will flow. The prac­tice has spurred an on­go­ing en­ergy boom but has raised wide­spread con­cerns that it might lead to ground­wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion, in­creased air pol­lu­tion and even earth­quakes.

The re­ac­tions were re­versed Tues­day. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists cheered the new re­port as proof that frack­ing threat­ens drink­ing wa­ter, while in­dus­try groups com­plained the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had yielded to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure on its way out the door.

“We are glad EPA re­sisted oil and gas in­dus­try spin, fol­lowed the sci­ence and de­liv­ered the facts,” said John Noel, oil and gas cam­paigns co­or­di­na­tor for Clean Wa­ter Ac­tion, an ad­vo­cacy group.

An oil in­dus­try spokesman called the re­port an “ab­surd” rev­er­sal that changes a sci­ence-based con­clu­sion to one “based in po­lit­i­cal am­bi­gu­ity” just weeks be­fore Pres­i­dent Barack Obama leaves of­fice.

“The agency has walked away from nearly a thou­sand sources of in­for­ma­tion from ... tech­ni­cal re­ports and peer-re­viewed sci­en­tific re­ports demon­strat­ing that ... hy­draulic frac­tur­ing does not lead to wide­spread, sys­temic im­pacts to drink­ing wa­ter re­sources,” said Erik Mil­ito of the Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute, an in­dus­try lob­by­ing group.

The frack­ing study makes a mock­ery of fre­quent pledges by Obama and EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Gina McCarthy to fol­low sci­ence as they make de­ci­sions, Mil­ito said. “We look for­ward to work­ing with the new ad­min­is­tra­tion to in­still fact-based sci­ence back into the pub­lic pol­icy process,” he said of Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump.

An EPA spokes­woman de­nied any po­lit­i­cal pres­sure.

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