The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has abandoned a 2011 study that linked Wyoming water pollution to hydraulic fracturing. The draft report was the first time a federal agency acknowledged the possibility of a connection between fracking and groundwater pollution, according to The Hill. The EPA said it stands by its study, but will not have independent scientists review its findings, and defers to the state of Wyoming to investigate further.
The EPA’s summary of findings said that their investigation “indicates that ground water in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.” The summary’s initial findings also said that “the presence of certain chemicals in drinking water wells was ‘consistent with migration from areas of gas production.’”
The Associated Press reported yesterday that the agency decided against writing a final report of its research. Nonetheless, the findings of their investigation are significant, as no previous correlation between fracking and water contamination has been made the government. Industry officials, however, are praising the EPA’s decision, believing it to be a retraction of their findings and confirmation that their science was unsound, neither of which are true.
Naturally, the oil and gas industry and its political proponents have been critical of the EPA’s findings since they were released a year and a half ago. This January, Senator David Vitter (R-LA) said that the data and process were “flawed,” and unreliable. Vitter wrote to then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, saying, “the EPA’s initial findings failed to be based on sound credible science, and [were] hastily rushed out the door for political purposes.”
Last year Vitter, the current Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member, sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to “not work to thwart fracking progress,” and accusing the president and his administration of trying to “cripple” what he calls “one of the only bright spots in our economy.” Incidentally, the oil and gas industry is Sen. Vitter’s number-one industry campaign contributor.
The gas industry maintains that fracking is a safe and effective process, despite the fact that incidents of contaminated water supplies have been reported and documented all over the country. As far back as 2008, ProPublica released an article reporting the results of their own investigation, which found that “water contamination in drilling areas around the country is far more prevalent than the EPA asserts.”
Their report also concluded that the 2004 EPA study, which found that the process of hydraulic fracturing poses no risk to water supplies, was “not as conclusive as it claimed to be,” and that, in fact, “the study foreshadowed many of the problems now being reported across the country.” Even in 2008, more than 1,000 incidents of water contamination had been reported by courts and state and local governments in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
In 2010, Pennsylvania resident Josh Fox decided to conduct his own investigation into the practice and effects of fracking, after receiving a letter from a natural gas company offering to lease his family’s land for drilling. What resulted was the documentary film Gasland, which documented dozens of families across the United States, and their personal experiences with contaminated water supplies. These experiences included illness, limited access to potable water, and tap water that could catch fire, among others.
Alisha is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.