Frack­ing and clean wa­ter

The new ad­min­is­tra­tion must take an­other look at the new EPA con­clu­sions

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

Gaug­ing the ef­fects of hy­draulic frac­tur­ing on the na­tion’s drink­ing wa­ter is much like con­sid­er­ing whether the glass of the pre­cious stuff is half-full or half-empty. When en­ergy com­pa­nies em­ploy hy­draulic frac­tur­ing in search of oil and nat­u­ral gas they should take care, and most of them do, to avoid con­tam­i­na­tion of nearby reser­voirs of drink­ing wa­ter. But the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion must de­ter­mine again whether there’s an un­ac­cept­able risk to sup­plies of fresh wa­ter.

A long-awaited re­port by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) prompts con­cerned par­ties to draw their own con­clu­sions from the find­ings. In it, the agency came to no con­clu­sion about whether hy­draulic frac­tur­ing, or frack­ing, poses a “sys­temic” dan­ger to drink­ing wa­ter. The drilling tech­nique is gen­er­ally con­ducted with­out in­ci­dent, but there have been a few cases of con­tam­i­na­tion. In ex­tract­ing pre­vi­ously un­reach­able oil and gas re­sources, frack­ing pumps a mix of wa­ter, sand and chem­i­cals down wells shafts to crack open rock for­ma­tions and re­lease the oil and gas.

The EPA study says wa­ter qual­ity vul­ner­a­bil­ity oc­curs when frack­ing chem­i­cals are spilled on the ground or es­cape from well shafts to sur­round­ing ground­wa­ter, or when the chem­i­cals are mis­tak­enly in­jected into un­der­ground wa­ter reser­voirs, or when frack­ing waste­water is stored in un­lined pits and seeps into the wa­ter ta­ble. Those rare ex­cep­tions shouldn’t form the ba­sis of a rule. Just days be­fore the EPA’s study was re­leased, U.S. En­ergy Sec­re­tary Ernest Moniz touted the “tremen­dous eco­nomic ben­e­fits” of frack­ing and said ob­jec­tions from op­po­nents have not been science-based.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists none­the­less took the study to mean oil and wa­ter don’t mix. “The Sierra Club ap­plauds the EPA for its science-based frack­ing re­port, con­firm­ing what so many al­ready knew; frack­ing presents a clear and present threat to our wa­ter, our public health, and our com­mu­ni­ties,” says the club’s Lena Mof­fitt.

The en­ergy in­dus­try draws the op­po­site con­clu­sion. “After five years of study, EPA found noth­ing to sub­stan­ti­ate the claim that frack­ing causes wide­spread wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion,” says Steve Ever­ley of North Tex­ans for Nat­u­ral Gas. “With the re­lease of this re­port, we can fi­nally put to rest the idea that frack­ing poses a se­ri­ous risk to ground­wa­ter.”

Nev­er­the­less, some en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, in­clud­ing many who will never be sat­is­fied un­til all the wells are spiked, doubt the in­dus­try’s abil­ity to frack with­out sys­temic dam­age to wa­ter qual­ity, and some of them even charge the agency with plant­ing an anti-frack­ing land­mine in the public dis­course be­fore hand­ing over the EPA to the fos­sil fuel-friendly Don­ald Trump. “It is be­yond ab­surd for the ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­verse course on its way out the door,” says a spokesman for the Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute.

There’s no de­bate that frack­ing has been the boon to the U.S. econ­omy. More than a mil­lion wells have been drilled since the 1940s into shale for­ma­tions scat­tered over the North­east, the Great Plains and Texas, 250,000 alone since 2000, vault­ing the United States to first place in world en­ergy pro­duc­tion. A pa­per pub­lished this month by the Na­tional Bureau of Eco­nomic Re­search con­cluded that frack­ing has added $3.5 tril­lion in value to U.S. stock mar­kets since 2012.

Ev­ery fam­ily has a right to drink­ing wa­ter un­con­tam­i­nated from the ef­fects of in­dus­try. They also have the right to share in the na­tion’s abun­dant en­ergy re­sources. It will fall to Don­ald Trump to de­cide how to bal­ance those in­ter­ests in a way that Amer­ica’s glass will be half-full, or bet­ter yet, over­flow­ing.

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