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Monday, December 19, 2016

EPA Finalizes Report on Fracking Contaminating Groundwater with Same Data, Different Characterization

The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that hydraulic fracturing, the oil and gas extraction technique also known as fracking, has contaminated drinking water in some circumstances, according to the final version of a comprehensive study first issued in 2015. 
The new version is far more worrying than the first, which found “no evidence that fracking systemically contaminates water” supplies. In a significant change, that conclusion was deleted from the final study. 
“E.P.A. scientists chose not to include that sentence. The scientists concluded it could not be quantitatively supported,” said Thomas A. Burke, the E.P.A.’s science adviser, and deputy assistant administrator of the agency’s Office of Research and Development.
Not surprisingly, this news has been reported on very differently depending on the pre-existing stance on fracking of the source.

For example, here is how anti-fracking site ThinkProgress reported on the news:
The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) can affect drinking water. 
In light of the facts that tap water near some fracking wells has become flammable, that two families in Pennsylvania last year won a court case over the impacts of fracking on their water, and that scientists have found arsenicin water sources near fracking, the EPA’s announcement Tuesday should not come as a surprise. 
But it does, since just 18 months ago, a draft version of the EPA’s fracking report said that the EPA “did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” 
Environmentalists applauded the finalized report, which they say is a more accurate representation of the science and data behind fracking.
Not all felt the same way.  An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal said this:
Speaking of fake news, the political scientists at the EPA have rewritten the conclusion of a report in order to cast doubt on the safety of hydraulic fracturing. Consider this EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s parting gift to Donald Trump. 
Last week the EPA issued the final version of a five-year study evaluating the impact of hydraulic fracturing, the oil and gas drilling method known as fracking, on groundwater contamination. The draft report released last year for public comment concluded that fracking has not “led to widespread, systemic impact on drinking water resources in the United States.” The EPA’s findings haven’t changed, but its conclusion has. 
After being barraged by plaintiff attorneys and Hollywood celebrities, the EPA in its final report substituted its determination of no “widespread, systemic impact” with the hypothetical that fracking “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances” and that “impacts can range in frequency and severity” depending on the circumstances.
Industry site Energy in Depth responded:
In yet another sign EPA’s word changing in its final groundwater report was driven by politics rather than science, EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Thomas Burke admitted when pressed by Wall Street Journal reporter Amy Harder that documented number of cases of water contamination from fracking-related activities is indeed small — even though language from the draft report stating cases of contamination “were small compared to the large number” of fracked wells was taken out of the final report. From the Wall Street Journal, 
When asked, Mr. Burke did reiterate the report’s earlier findings that the EPA found only a small number of cases of contamination but stressed the lack of data. 
“While the number of identified cases of drinking water contamination is small, the scientific evidence is insufficient to support estimates of the frequency of contamination,” Burke told the Wall Street Journal. “Scientists involved with finalizing the assessment specifically identified this uncertainty in the report.” (emphasis added) 
Of course, there’s absolutely no difference between saying the “number of identified cases of drinking water contamination is small” and there are “no widespread, systemic impacts.” 

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