EPA Report: Fracking can contaminate drinking water

Updates to a study issued in first 2015 now say that fracking has contaminated drinking water in "some instances."

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WASHINGTON, DC, DECEMBER 14, 2016 -- The Environmental Protection Agency issued a final version of a comprehensive study on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on drinking water, saying that the practice can contaminate drinking water in "some circumstances."

In the first version of the report, EPA found "no evidence that fracking systemically contaminates water" supplies. In the latest version, published this week, that sentence was deleted from the study.

From the report:
"EPA found scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances. The report identifies certain conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe:

  • Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources;
  • Spills during the handling of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources;
  • Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources;
  • Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources;
  • Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water; and
  • Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.

Data gaps and uncertainties limited EPA’s ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water resources locally and nationally. Because of these data gaps and uncertainties, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of impacts, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle."

According to the New York Times, fracking has contributed to drinking water contamination in all stages of the process: acquiring water to be used for fracking, mixing the water with chemical additives to make fracking fluids, injecting the chemical fluids underground, collecting the wastewater that flows out of fracking wells after injections, and storing the used wastewater.

The reports was requested by Congress in 2010 and included a review of over 1,000 existing studies as well as new research, modeling and analysis conducted by EPA scientists.

Learn more here.

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