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The EPA Science Advisory Board Raises Questions about the EPA Report on Fracing and Drinking Water

There has been an ongoing debate about whether hydraulic fracturing activities for producing oil and gas have an impact on drinking water supplies near and around the fracing site. Recently, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Science Advisory Board (SAB) raised a number of questions concerning the EPA’s June 2015 draft report on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracing on drinking water supplies.

The SAB prepared a 180-page peer-review report that you can read here addressing the EPA’s 2015 draft report. The SAB found a number of aspects of the EPA’s draft report to be critically deficient. Below is an overview of some of the the SAB’s report’s findings. In particular, the SAB noted that:

  • The EPA’s conclusions drawn about the widespread and systemic impacts that fracing has on the quality of drinking water resources were not quantitatively supported and lacked evidence.
  • The EPA’s position that its conclusions should be drawn at a national level and without consideration for regional effects is concerning.
  • The EPA’s conclusions did not specifically address or clearly described the system or systems of interest for instance whether the water sources were groundwater or surface water, nor did the EPA’s conclusions specifically describe the scale of the impact, for instance whether the impact was local or regional.
  • The EPA’s draft report did not provide specific definitions for words, such as “proximity,” “widespread,” and “systematic.”
  • The EPA’s draft report did not address significant data limitations, for instance uncertainties in publicly available data and the challenges associated with assessing the data.
  • The EPA’s final report needs to clearly link the EPA’s conclusory statements to supporting evidence that can be quantitatively defined.
  • In the EPA’s draft report, the EPA had acknowledged that it had made plans to conduct  assessments, field studies, and other research, but had not yet conducted these prospective case studies. The SAB recommended that the EPA’s final report include these planned activities.
  • The EPA’s draft report did not clearly describe the probability, the risk, and relative the significance of potential fracing-related failures; the likely magnitude of those failures; and how those failures could impact water quality.
  • The EPA’s draft report lacked chemical toxicity and hazard information relevant to hydraulic fracturing during oil and gas production, and failed to provide analysis on the most likely scenarios and hazards associated with hydraulic fracking activities.
  • The EPA’s draft report lacked distinction between the characteristics of hydraulic fracturing fluid that is injected into a well and the characteristics of the fluid produced by a well.
  • The EPA’s draft report failed to provide any baseline water quality data so that water quality data concerning drilling activities and hydraulic fracturing activities can be compared to baseline water quality data.

The EPA draft report is yet another example of the unscientific methodology that seems to be the norm at the EPA. The EPA clearly has a political agenda of bashing oil and gas production. However, and not surprisingly, they can’t find real-world evidence to support their claims, but they go ahead and make the claims anyway. This is a waste of our tax dollars.

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