Science Advisory Board Affirms EPA’s Topline Finding on Landmark Groundwater Study
Just a few weeks after Inside EPA reported that the Hydraulic Fracturing Panel of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) “appears to be stepping back from its broad disagreement with the agency’s draft study that found no ‘widespread, systemic’ impacts to drinking water from hydraulic fracturing” the SAB released its second round of draft recommendations, which affirm EPA’s topline findings.
While anti-fracking activists have tried to suggest otherwise, the reality is that, far from requesting actual changes to EPA’s topline finding, SAB is asking EPA to “strengthen” its conclusions by making the following requests:
“The Agency should strengthen the Executive Summary and Chapter 10 Synthesis by linking the stated findings more directly to evidence presented in the body of the draft Assessment Report. The EPA should more precisely describe each of the major findings of the draft Assessment Report, in both the Executive Summary and Chapter 10 Synthesis, and provide a full accounting of all available information, including specific cases of drinking water impacts, that relate to these major findings.” (emphasis added)
“The SAB recommends that the EPA revise the major statements of findings in the Executive Summary and elsewhere in the draft Assessment Report to be more precise, and to clearly link these statements to evidence provided in the body of the draft Assessment Report.” (emphasis added)
In other words, the SAB is saying the finding stands, but that EPA should provide more numbers in its Executive Summary to support that finding.
EPA’s landmark groundwater study took no less than five years to complete, and is far and away the most comprehensive study ever to be done on hydraulic fracturing. As EPA’s Science Advisor and Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development Dr. Thomas A. Burke said in a press release,
“It 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.”
EPA’s study actually builds upon a long list of studies that show the fracking process poses an exceedingly low risk of impacting underground sources of drinking water. In just the last few weeks, the results of an ongoing University of Cincinnati (UC) study in Ohio’s top shale counties, which included baseline samples, were made public. As one of the researchers, Dr. Amy Townsend-Small said, samples that were high in methane “clearly did not have a natural gas source.” She also said, “There was no significant change in methane concentration over time, even as more and more natural gas wells were drilled in the area.”
EPA’s study also corroborates a “landmark study” by the U.S. Department of Energy in which the researchers injected tracers into hydraulic fracturing fluid and found no groundwater contamination after twelve months of monitoring. It is in line with reports by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Government Accountability Office, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Groundwater Protection Council, to name just a few.
Indeed, if there were anything to suggest widespread or systemic impacts to drinking water as a result of hydraulic fracturing, such evidence would have been uncovered during the past decade of extensive study of the process, and the SAB would be able to cite that evidence.
But, whether it’s the first or second draft, there is nothing in SAB’s recommendations to suggest that EPA’s finding of no “widespread, systemic” groundwater impacts from hydraulic fracturing is incorrect. That’s because hydraulic fracturing has not caused widespread impacts on groundwater.