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Notes on the EPA’s Hydraulic Fracturing Study Draft

I participated in a webinar hosted by the USEPA regarding their draft hydraulic fracturing study and I’ve taken a preliminary look at the study itself — not to be confused with the executive summary.  The report itself can be downloaded from http://www2.epa.gov/hfstudy.

The primary reported conclusion of the draft study is that the EPA finds “no evidence for widespread water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing operations”.

However, the evidence presented in the study clearly indicates thousands of incidents of localized misery related to water contamination:

  • About one of every dozen petroleum industry spills (8%) reached a drinking water source.
  • Two-thirds of these spills (66%) contaminated soil adjacent to the drill pads involved.
  • Two-thirds of oil and gas wells (66%) had cement gaps — when they were new.
  • Three percent (3%) of oil and gas wells had cement gaps where they penetrated drinking water aquifers.
  • Allthe wells examined deteriorated with age, but the agency could not determine an average rate of breakdown.

About one of every 250 hydraulic fracturing operations (0.4%) sent cracks directly into underground sources of drinking water.  Until today’s release of the draft report, this is the number which petroleum industry spokespeople have insisted was zero.  Not only is it not zero, it amounts to thousands of incidents across multiple states.

One Glaring Deficiency

I noticed (for now) one glaring deficiency in the report:  the chapter on waste-fluids disposal made no mention of earthquakes triggered by underground injection of wastes in different regions of the country — although there was an oblique comment about an uncertain future for waste disposal if underground injection began to be limited.  Do our EPA scientists believe that earthquakes don’t affect drinking water aquifers?

How do we reconcile the documented evidence of widespread harm with the executive summary conclusion of harm that is not widespread?  The evidence was collected by scientists, and the “spin” was written by politicians.  Nothing about that is new to my experience.