The EPA released a draft of its study, U.S. EPA Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources (External Review Draft), EPA, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-15/047, 2015, assessing the impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on drinking water in early June (the draft Assessment). According to the EPA’s press release, the study finds that “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” but “identifies important vulnerabilities.” 

The draft Assessment evaluated the potential impact of fracking at each stage of the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle: water acquisition, chemical mixing, well injection, flowback, and wastewater treatment and waste disposal. The study’s objective was to “assess the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, if any, and to identify the driving factors that may affect the severity and frequency of such impacts.” The draft Assessment “provides a review and synthesis of available scientific literature and data to assess the potential for hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas to impact the quality or quantity of drinking water resources, and identifies factors affecting the frequency or severity of any potential impacts.”

According to Dr. Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s Science Advisor and Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, the draft Assessment “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.”

[H]ydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources . . .

Supporters of fracking, such as American Petroleum Institute Upstream Group Director Erik Milito, say that the evidence gathered by EPA confirms that “[h]ydraulic fracturing is being done safely under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators and industry best practices.” Meanwhile, opponents note that the EPA’s review found specific instances where well integrity and wastewater management related to hydraulic fracturing activities impacted drinking water resources. “The EPA’s water quality study confirms what millions of Americans already know – that dirty oil and gas fracking contaminates drinking water,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

Numerous peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports were also released on the same day as the draft Assessment. Those reports were a part of EPA’s overall hydraulic fracturing drinking water study and contributed to the findings outlined in the draft assessment. More than 20 peer-reviewed articles or reports were published as part of this EPA’s draft Assessment.

You can read more posts about the fracking/potential health hazard debate here, here, and here.   For more on fracking and environmental law see our sister blog Energy & Environmental Law Advisor and its post on the EPA’s draft Assessment.

The draft Assessment will be finalized after review by the Science Advisory Board (SAB) and public review and comment. The Federal Register Notice with information on the SAB review and how to comment on the draft assessment can be found here.