US Federal Report Confirms Water Pollution by Fracking

US Federal Report Confirms Water Pollution by Fracking

Postby Oscar » Mon Jun 08, 2015 2:30 pm

US Federal Report Confirms Water Pollution by Fracking

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Based on limited data, EPA study finds no 'widespread' impacts.

By Andrew Nikiforuk, June 8, 2015

Despite being limited by data gaps, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that hydraulic fracturing technology has polluted ground and surface water in cases ranging from Alberta to Pennsylvania.

The 500-page draft report reverses the findings of a 2004 EPA study that concluded that the technology, which involves the high-pressure injection of fluids, gases, chemicals, water and sand into rock formations that hold oil and gas, posed no risk to groundwater. [ ... estudy.cfm ]

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Contamination spreads, expert warns

Proponents of hydraulic fracturing, which allows industry to crack into previously low-grade and uneconomic oil and gas formations, immediately seized on the report's findings that fracking incidents were not widespread.

U.S. Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, for example, told the Tulsa World that the EPA report vindicates the technology from claims that it contaminates water wells and contributes to water shortages.

"This is the latest in a series of failed attempts by the (Obama) administration to link hydraulic fracturing to systematic drinking water contamination," Inhofe said in a statement to the paper.

Yet the report details several cases where the EPA investigated contamination reports directly after fracking operations and found big problems. [ ... 508_km.pdf ]

Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell fracking expert and a member of PSE Healthy Energy, a group that favours severely limiting fracking for health and economic reasons, found the report's confirmation of groundwater contamination "deeply alarming."

"Headlines to the effect that this contamination appears not yet 'widespread' are hardly reassuring," added Ingraffea. "Contamination of a single drinking water well today can become contamination of an entire aquifer tomorrow."

One of the weaknesses of the new EPA study, Ingraffea said, is that it doesn't include state enforcement data as well as "studies and agency data that are highly relevant to the impacts of hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources." [Tyee]

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Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about the energy industry for two decades and is a contributing editor to The Tyee. Find his previous stories here: [ ]

Nikiforuk's book on hydraulic fracturing and the Jessica Ernst case, Slick Water, will be published this fall by Greystone Books.

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[ ... estudy.cfm ]

The EPA's first study on the technology, "Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reservoirs," found that fracking was safe and largely reflected the views of the George W. Bush administration.

The report was a government response to complaints and legal challenges related to the impacts of shallow fracking of coal formations across the U.S. -- the precursor to the shale gas revolution.

Despite extensive evidence of methane migration into groundwater in Colorado, West Virginia and Alabama, the agency concluded in its 2004 report that "the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into coalbed methane wells poses little or no threat" to drinking water and "does not justify additional study at this time."

At the same time the report noted that the coalbed methane industry had not only, in 10 out of 11 coal basins, fracked coal seams containing drinking water, but had done so with toxic fracking fluids, such as diesel fuel.

To address these problems, the EPA championed a voluntary and unenforceable offer by three major fracking companies to stop using diesel fuel. Diesel fuel remains a key fracking ingredient in parts of the U.S. and Canada, particularly in Alberta.

The seven-member peer review panel that signed off on the report included many industry representatives. Not one groundwater or contamination expert was included in the panel.

-- Andrew Nikiforuk
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