The EPA lied to downplay the risks of fracking

From ToxicLeaks

A study conducted by the EPA over the last five years on the impacts of fracking on drinking water appears to have outrageously downplayed the risks of this drilling method and has resulted in attacks against the EPA's very own Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). This reflects the careless attitude of some EPA officials that clearly have let corporate and political influence bias their findings. Meanwhile, ordinary people are suffering everyday from the nefarious effects of fracking and because the EPA isn't doing its job.

Corporate and political interests influence the report's conclusion[edit | edit source]

The EPA started this study in 2011 and published the draft of its findings in June 2015. The goal was to assess the impacts of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) on drinking water. Indeed fracking entails pumping big amounts of water, sand and chemicals underground to break up the underground rock formations that contain oil or gas. But there have been growing concerns that this mixture is contaminating the drinking water by leaching into the water table. However, the EPA study concludes that “there is no evidence fracking has led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.” This conclusion was celebrated by the fracking industry. For instance, an ExxonMobil spokesman gloated that the study was “absolutely consistent with all the previous studies that show that effective well containment practices make hydraulic fracturing a very safe practice”.

However, this conclusion had more to do with corporate and political influence than with science. Fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil pushed very hard to tone down the content of the report. And their reaction is a clear sign that they got what they wanted. But this could not have happened without political backing. And the Obama administration obviously had its hand in this as well. The fracking boom was fostered by this administration and President Obama appears to believe that the short-term economic gains outweigh the gigantic health issues fracking is causing. Obama's refusal to tighten the regulations on oil and gas fracking outside federally owned land is another example of this stance. However, this very political conclusion was strongly criticized by the SAB of the EPA, that highlighted the many failings of the study.

But the conclusion wasn't consistent with the information inside the report[edit | edit source]

This conclusion is wrong on countless levels and it's horrible to think of the influence it has had on public opinion when one looks at the methodological flaws of the study. First of all, this conclusion of the study is not consistent with its content. Indeed the survey includes many examples of serious water contamination caused by fracking. For instance in Killdeer, North Dakota, water wells were polluted with “chemicals or brine” by a blowout on a fracking site. One out of four of the 36 wells tested in Northeastern Pennsylvania were “impacted by stray gas (methane and ethane) associated with nearby hydraulic fracturing activities.”

In Southwestern Pennsylvania, wells sustained chloride contamination because of nearby wastewater pits. In some sections, the report describes the link between fracking and water pollution so unequivocally that the conclusion seems all the more incomprehensible : “We found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells (…). Approximately 6,800 sources of drinking water for public water systems were located within one mile of at least one hydraulically fractured well (…). These drinking water sources served more than 8.6 million people year-round in 2013”. This discrepancy between the findings inside the study and its conclusion have prompted the EPA's SAB to call this conclusion inconsistent with the essence of the survey : “Major findings are ambiguous or are inconsistent with the observations/data presented in the body of the report.” Indeed, this ruthless assessment reflects how far the study's conclusion was from the realm of science, and how it had been twisted by corporate and political influence. This strong bias can also be seen in the shamefully non rigorous methodology that was used.

A strongly biased report[edit | edit source]

The discrepancy between the conclusion and the content of the study isn't the only problem of this study. It appears that many elements of methodology were the direct result of the influence of fossil fuel corporations like ExxonMobil. For instance, the study didn't focus on the worst examples of fracking caused water pollution like in Texas or Wyoming “where hydraulic fracturing activities are perceived by many members of the public to have caused significant local impacts to drinking water sources.” This bias was already designed to downplay the importance of the threat which played into the hands of fracking giants.

Moreover, these companies were extremely uncooperative with the researchers of the EPA. Only a few companies accepted their presence, but when they did, they imposed very stringent conditions for the research. For instance, Chesapeake agreed to some monitoring but only where and when it had decided it. In these conditions, how could the EPA have properly conducted this study ? Actually, the fact that it found any examples of water contamination under these conditions is an unequivocal sign that fracking is causing massive pollution of drinking water in the US. But unfortunately, what it really proves is the EPA's absence of resolve when dealing with the fracking industry. A weakness that Americans are paying for throughout the country.

Other studies confirm the enormous danger of fracking[edit | edit source]

Meanwhile, the truth about fracking is making its way to the public, in spite of ExxonMobil and the government's best efforts. For instance, a recent study by the Yale School of Public Health has analysed the nefarious chemical composition of fracking fluids, the liquid that is injected into rock formations to break them open and release the oil or the gas. And the researchers have found that many of the chemicals inside these fluids are associated with reproductive and developmental health issues.

The study calls for ambitious exposure and epidemiological research to understand these potentially lethal links. And, of course, the fracking industry is responsible for the rise of earthquakes felt in some States like Oklahoma. The state's Geological Survey highlights that “we know that the recent rise in earthquakes cannot be entirely attributed to natural causes.” Indeed both the fracking process itself, and then the disposal of the wastewater in underground wells are highly disruptive for seismic activity and are causing part of these scary earthquakes.

This report is a blow to all those who are trying to protect access to clean water. It's a clear victory of corporate and political pressure, at the expense of people's health. Which is why these lies must be exposed. And government must be reminded that its job is to protect us, not corporate profit.