EPA Says Fracking Isn’t a Threat to Drinking Water, But Is That True?

This week, the Environmental Protection Agency released the results of a new study, and it’s a setback for environmentalists. According to the agency’s research, fracking does not pose a widespread threat to people’s drinking water.

Look, I think scientific studies are something that we need to respect and use to inform our own opinions. It’s ludicrous to fault people for ignoring the research on climate change and vaccinations, and then intentionally choose to overlook research that doesn’t correspond with your own agenda. In this case, however, I’m not prepared to give the EPA the final word on this topic.

For starters, the EPA’s study is not the only research conducted on water safety adjacent to fracking sites. In fact, a number of independent studies have reached the opposite conclusion:

  • Duke University has conducted three studies that have all turned up with the same conclusion: water closest to fracking wells is highly contaminated. Water within a mile of a fracking well had six times the concentration of methane and 23 times the concentration of ethane than water a little further away, crushing the idea that this is “natural.”
  • Another study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that the materials in the fracking wells themselves were more responsible for water contamination than the fracking liquids.
  • Researchers at Penn State University found a strong correlation between fracking locations and highly contaminated water.

Do these studies invalidate the EPA’s study? Not at all, but the differing findings do warrant researching the subject further. That’s especially true in light of the anecdotal evidence to the contrary. We’ve seen the videos of people residing in fracking communities lighting their tap water on fire. We also know for a fact that fracking companies in California illegally dumped three billion gallons of wastewater into the state’s already depleted aquifers. How does the EPA account for these mistakes?

Actually, the EPA does account for these mistakes. The study’s own text lists multiple times when water’s safety has been compromised by fracking. Still, the organization feels comfortable stating that fracking lacks a “widespread, systemic impact on drinking water.” That may be true, but that’s also a ridiculous threshold to clear. How “widespread” and “systemic” do fracking’s damages need to be before the EPA will call it dangerous?

Unfortunately, the headlines from many news organizations are not sweating the actual details from the study, instead focusing on the narrative that the EPA has declared fracking safe. The natural gas industry is also running with that narrative and declaring the research a full, not partial, victory. “With this new report, it couldn’t be clearer that shale development is occurring in conjunction with environmental protection,” said Katie Brown of the Petroleum Association of America. “The claims by anti-fracking activists have been thoroughly debunked.”

It’s important to note that the EPA and PSU studies were denied actual fracking samples to test water samples against, which would allow the scientists to have more definitive results. If the natural gas industry is so confident that it’s not responsible for water contamination, why is it not cooperating?

As ThinkProgress points out, that’s precisely one of the major holes in the research. The EPA could not access information from a random selection of fracking wells and instead relied heavily on oil companies’ self-reporting. It stands to reason that the locations that willingly handed over their own data knew that they were meeting safety standards. Why the EPA feels the limited, skewed data it’s been handed is sufficient enough to call fracking safe isn’t clear, but it’s hardly the first time the EPA has cowed to the oil and gas industry and backtracked on its assessments against fracking companies.

Admittedly, I don’t know whether the EPA is actually wrong on this issue. All I know is that the agency’s findings are debatable and flawed, so hopefully no one thinks the door is now closed on fracking harming drinking water just because the EPA (sort of) says so.

At the end of the day, water contamination has always been just one reason on a long list of reasons to ban fracking, not the least of which is the inevitable carbon emissions that come after pulling up this oil and gas. We don’t need a conclusive call on water safety to know that fracking is not a healthy activity for the planet and should be stopped immediately!

Photo credit: Thinkstock

125 comments

Joseph Glackin
Joseph Glackin3 years ago

To borrow a tactic from Erin Brockovich, deliver the Flint water to the EPA HQ, and DEMAND they drink it

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner3 years ago

The EPA is staffed and bribed by corporate criminals. Of course it's not true. You can assume everything that comes out of their mouths is a lie.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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David Thieke
David Thieke3 years ago

No, it isn't true, Fracking is a danger and very risky, as the studies you listed by Duke ,
The National Academy of Sciences and Penn State all indicate , as well as many other studies. Think about this realistically. The EPA is pressured intensely by the oil industry, and sadly they buckle under constantly. I know that for a fact, from 2 close friends of mine who are both Managers at the EPA, and have worked there for decades. Due to that pressure to modify their findings to make them "more palpable to the Industry", I trust the Duke and National Academy of Science studies far more. If the American People knew how much the U.S. Govt was just a client of the Major Corporations they would be astonished. And I'm not talking out of my hat. I work in the DC area and I'm talking from personal experience of things I've witnessed personally for 20 years, not from any philosophy or ideology. I know for a fact that Randy Newman hit the nail on the head with this song. ""IT'S MONEY THAT MATTERS IN THE USA" I've learned the hard way to follow the money trail.. It always leads to the truth.

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Angela K.
Angela K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Alvin King
Alvin King3 years ago

Thanks for posting.

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Sarah Crockett
Sarah Crockett3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Ei R.
Eileen A3 years ago

I don't believe it at all!

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Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell3 years ago

Thank you

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Joseph Glackin
Joseph Glackin3 years ago

All bureaucracies are experts at playing both sides of every argument, and covering their ""assets". The EPA just said, in BIG letters, that Big Oil has not been at fault. In the smaller details,they admit that all kinds of bad cess can happen to local wells.

When the proverbial hits the fan, the bureaucrats will claim they DID warn about local contamination. They did not think it was bad enough to interfere with PROFIT. It is called the bureaucrats conundrum. How do you keep your job and still tell the truth?

Tell each side enough. Then hope that when the $tuff hits the fan-----

IBG---YBG, (Translation: I'll be gone, you;ll be gone). It worked so well before the banking balloon went south in 2008.

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