This week the EPA released its draft assessment of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on drinking water resources. The findings are now available for public comment and expert peer review.
Since the early 2000s, public concern was raised as the use of hydraulic fracturing increased with the surge of domestic oil and gas production. The United States Congress directed the EPA to study the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on the quality and quantity of drinking water resources to address public concerns. EPA has been studying the relationship since 2011. The draft assessment released this week synthesizes the available information related to hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources.
The study found hydraulic fracturing took place in 25 states between 1990 and 2013. Over half of the wells were in Texas.Colorado had the second most, followed by Pennsylvania and North Dakota. Nationally, the study found “approximately 9.4 million people lived within one mile of a hydraulically fractured well.”
Five hydraulic fracturing activities or mechanisms were identified to have the potential to impact drinking water resources including, “water withdrawals in times of, or in areas with, low water availability; spills of hydraulic fracturing fluids and produced water; fracturing directly into underground drinking water resources; below ground migration of liquids and gases; and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.”
In the end, the EPA found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing mechanisms “have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States” but noted “specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.”
Several limiting factors exist including insufficient data on water quality, scarcity of long-term studies, presence of other contaminant sources precluding a link to hydraulic fracturing activities, and the inaccessibility of information around impacts and hydraulic fracturing activities.