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Sunday December 17, 2017

666

We now know that it’s possible to bribe people who work for the federal Environmental Protection Agency. That is, big money donors DO have a say in how “science” is presented by the agency. The one great, huge, towering problem that anti-drillers have is that there is no scientific evidence that supports their wild claims that fracking contaminates water–which is their favorite lie to spread. When the Environmental Protection Agency arrived at the same conclusion–fracking doesn’t pollute water–after four years of studying it, that really took the wind out of the sails of rabid fossil fuel haters (see EPA Draft Report Says Fracking Doesn’t Pollute Groundwater Supplies). The EPA reviewed research from over 950 studies and even conducted nine of their own primary studies. Conclusion: fracking doesn’t pollute water supplies. What’s a good fossil fuel hater to do? Pressure the EPA to change the outcome of their study. And pressure they did. So much so that in the final version of the report just released (full copy below), the EPA slightly modified the language. In the original draft report, the language says, “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.” The final report deletes that statement and provides language that says “under some circumstances” the fracking process can harm local water supplies, but because there are “gaps” in the data, the EPA can’t say how often or how much such impacts happen. In other words, all of the science is still the same. There is no evidence that fracking hurts water. The EPA simply gave their Big Green friends some headlines to play with for a few days. Perhaps it’s no coincidence the report is 666 pages long…

Here’s what Tom Burke, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the EPA and the agency’s chief  scientist, had to say:

Clean and safe drinking water is central to public health—something that we work hard every day at EPA to protect.

Today, we’ve taken an important step forward in this mission. With the release of our final assessment of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, EPA is providing a strong scientific foundation for states and local decision makers to better protect drinking water resources in areas where hydraulic fracturing occurs or is being considered.

When EPA started this study, we were asked by Congress to scientifically assess the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water.

As part of conducting these studies, we met with stakeholders, collecting input that helped to make our work stronger. We reviewed thousands of sources of data and information. And we advanced the scientific understanding of hydraulic fracturing activities and their impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.

We passed this information on to others by publishing 13 EPA technical reports and just as many articles in scientific journals.

The report does two important things—it outlines what the scientific evidence shows and underscores what we don’t know because of gaps in the data. While these data gaps limited EPA’s ability to fully assess the potential impacts to drinking water resources locally and nationally, they too can serve as an important guide to local communities considering hydraulic fracturing.

Most importantly it provides states, tribes, and communities around the country a critical resource they can use to identify how to better protect public health and our drinking water resources.

In the end, I believe the assessment truly reflects the current state of the science. It cites over 1,200 sources including published papers, technical reports, results from peer-reviewed Agency research, and information provided by industry, states, tribes, non-governmental organizations, and other interested members of the public.

States and industry can now add the scientific understanding gained through this assessment to many other resources—including engineering capability and technology—to ensure that hydraulic fracturing is conducted in a safe and responsible manner.

But there is a last point that should not be glossed over, and that is the strength of the scientific process. I can tell you from experience, good science takes time. It involves careful planning, requires rigorous attention to detail, and relies on feedback through scientific peer review. In this instance, the Agency’s independent Science Advisory Board provided rigorous peer review and numerous constructive comments.

The final assessment is a strong, clear representation of the science that exists on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water resources. (1)

The official EPA press release, announcing a release of the final study, in which they try to spin the truth that fracking doesn’t harm water supplies:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is releasing its scientific report on the impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources, which provides states and others the scientific foundation to better protect drinking water resources in areas where hydraulic fracturing is occurring or being considered. The report, done at the request of Congress, provides scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances. As part of the report, EPA identified conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe. The report also identifies uncertainties and data gaps. These uncertainties and data gaps limited EPA’s ability to fully assess impacts to drinking water resources both locally and nationally. These final conclusions are based upon review of over 1,200 cited scientific sources; feedback from an independent peer review conducted by EPA’s Science Advisory Board; input from engaged stakeholders; and new research conducted as part of the study.

“The value of high quality science has never been more important in helping to guide decisions around our nation’s fragile water resources. EPA’s assessment provides the scientific foundation for local decision makers, industry, and communities that are looking to protect public health and drinking water resources and make more informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing activities,” said Dr. Thomas A. Burke, EPA’s Science Advisor and Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “This assessment is the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on the relationship of drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing.”

The report is organized around activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle and their potential to impact drinking water resources. The stages include: (1) acquiring water to be used for hydraulic fracturing (Water Acquisition), (2) mixing the water with chemical additives to make hydraulic fracturing fluids (Chemical Mixing), (3) injecting hydraulic fracturing fluids into the production well to create and grow fractures in the targeted production zone (Well Injection), (4) collecting the wastewater that returns through the well after injection (Produced Water Handling), and (5) managing the wastewater through disposal or reuse methods (Wastewater Disposal and Reuse).

EPA identified cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. Impacts cited in the report generally occurred near hydraulically fractured oil and gas production wells and ranged in severity, from temporary changes in water quality, to contamination that made private drinking water wells unusable.

As part of the report, EPA identified certain conditions under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe, including:

·        Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources;

·        Spills during the management of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources;

·        Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources;

·        Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources;

·        Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water resources; and

·        Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.

·        The report provides valuable information about potential vulnerabilities to drinking water resources, but was not designed to be a list of documented impacts.

Data gaps and uncertainties limited EPA’s ability to fully assess the potential impacts on drinking water resources both locally and nationally. Generally, comprehensive information on the location of activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle is lacking, either because it is not collected, not publicly available, or prohibitively difficult to aggregate. In places where we know activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle have occurred, data that could be used to characterize hydraulic fracturing-related chemicals in the environment before, during, and after hydraulic fracturing were scarce. Because of these data gaps and uncertainties, as well as others described in the assessment, it was not possible to fully characterize the severity of impacts, nor was it possible to calculate or estimate the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.

EPA’s final assessment benefited from extensive stakeholder engagement with states, tribes, industry, non-governmental organizations, the scientific community, and the public. This broad engagement helped to ensure that the final assessment report reflects current practices in hydraulic fracturing and uses all data and information available to the agency. This report advances the science. The understanding of the potential impacts from hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources will continue to improve over time as new information becomes available.

For a copy of the study, visit www.epa.gov/hfstudy. (2)

One of the best mainstream news articles we read about the release of the study comes from the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

In the final version of a controversial and long-awaited report, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists said Tuesday that the boom in natural gas drilling and production can harm drinking water resources “under some circumstances,” but that gaps in data limit the agency’s ability to fully assess those impacts “locally and nationally.”

The EPA backed away from some of its own public relations spin and the narrative that was pressed by the industry following the release of a draft report in June 2015, providing in its new 666-page report what other experts said was a more careful and appropriate description of the findings of a more than five-year nationwide investigation of hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — and other oil and gas production activities.

“This summary of the EPA report captures the state of the science much more accurately than before,” said Rob Jackson, an engineer and ecologist at Stanford University who has studied the issue. “Fracking can be done safety, but it isn’t always.”

The EPA research identified a variety of conditions where water quality impacts can be “more frequent or severe,” including spills of chemicals or contaminated water from gas wells and related activities, underground injection of the fluids used in “hydraulic fracturing” of gas wells that aren’t properly constructed, and the disposal of wastewater in unlined or improperly built pits.

Agency officials said in the final report that they had identified specific instances where contamination occurred by these mechanisms. The report said “available data and information allowed us to qualitatively describe factors that affect the frequency or severity of impacts at the local level.”

“However,” the EPA final report said, “significant data gaps and uncertainties in the available data prevented us from calculating or estimating the national frequency of impacts on drinking water resources from activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.”

“The data gaps and uncertainties described in this report also precluded a full characterization of the severity of the impacts,” the final EPA report said.

Congress had ordered the study in 2010, as natural gas production in places like the Marcellus Shale region in West Virginia skyrocketed amid the increased use of a combination of horizontal drilling and fracking. Fracking is part of the process of preparing a well for production by pumping huge volumes of water and chemicals underground to split open rock formations to loosen oil and gas flow.

Agency officials called the final EPA report “the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on the relationship of drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing.” It is organized around the stages of natural gas production from acquiring water for fracking, mixing that water with chemical additives, injecting those fluids into production wells to free gas reserves, collecting the resulting wastewater and manging that wastewater.

The new EPA report did not propose specific new standards, regulations or enforcement, but agency officials said it could be used to guide decisions about such efforts. Still, new rules on gas-drilling seem unlikely, with the final report coming as the Obama administration prepares to leave office and President-elect Donald Trump having promised to do away with government regulations he says are hampering domestic energy industries.

The EPA rewrote its report based on strong criticism from its own Science Advisory Board, and the release of the final version comes after a report from the public radio show Marketplace that detailed last-minute changes to the earlier draft and White House involvement in the issue.

During a conference call with news reporters, top EPA science adviser Thomas Burke seem to be pushing back against any suggestion that politics — the Obama administration has been a supporter of expanding the nation’s natural gas industry — played any role in the way the draft report was written or portrayed to the public.

Burke pointed specifically to the absence in the final report to widely quoted language in the draft that said the EPA had not found evidence that fracking had caused “widespread, systematic impacts” on drinking water resources in the country. Burke said the sentence was not in the final report because, when pressed by outside reviewers from the Science Advisory Board, EPA scientists couldn’t back it up with data.

“EPA scientists wrote that sentence in the draft because they believed it best characterized what could be supported by the science,” Burke said. “Scientists put that language in the draft report and scientists made the decision not to include it in the final report. This is the scientific process at work.”

Still, the EPA draft report itself had included a variety of disclaimers about gaps in necessary data, but that language was not highlighted in the agency’s press release or picked up on and amplified by industry officials or many media outlets.

On Tuesday, some industry groups continued to push the notion that the EPA’s report had found “no widespread, systematic impacts from fracking.” On industry group, the American Petroleum Institute, blasted the EPA, saying that the agency had abandoned science in revising its report. “It is beyond absurd for the administration to reverse course on its way out the door,” the group said.

Others said it makes no sense that data gaps still exist that prevent the EPA from answering important questions about fracking.

Marc Glass, an environmental scientist with the Morgantown consulting firm Downstream Strategies, said that more than a decade into the fracking boom, the nation “should have detailed knowledge of the fate and transport of exactly what is injected” yet “we still rely on inference, models and presumptions instead of collecting very measurable evidence.

Lissa Lucas, who lives amid the Marcellus Shale boom in Ritchie County, agreed.

“Given how important energy security is to the country, why is there any lack of data?” Lucas said. “Taxes on those industries should be sufficient to pay for studies that will make sure frack-impacted areas aren’t paying for all the negative externalities.” (3)

Fake news sources like the New York Times couldn’t wait to trot out fake news headlines, like this one: Reversing Course, E.P.A. Says Fracking Can Contaminate Drinking Water. From the fake news source Christian Science Monitor: In U-turn, EPA says fracking can pose a threat to drinking water. And from one of the biggest fake news sources of them all, the Huffington Post: New EPA Report Finds Fracking Can Affect Drinking Water. There are literally hundreds more just like those. As pointed out above, the final study is unchanged and found nothing of the sort. But that’s how fake news works, folks.

Below is a full copy of the final EPA report on fracking, and how it does NOT affect groundwater, at least to any significant extent (unless you tip over a rail car full of chemicals near a water well).

(1) EPA Connect Blog (Dec 13, 2016) – EPA Releases Final Report of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources

(2) US Environmental Protection Agency (Dec 13, 2016) – EPA Releases Final Report on Impacts from Hydraulic Fracturing Activities on Drinking Water

(3) Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail (Dec 13, 2016) – EPA final report says ‘data gaps’ limit assessment of gas boom impacts

See also:

·        Energy in Depth (Dec 13, 2016) – EPA Finalized Groundwater Report Reinforces No Widespread, Systemic Impacts from Fracking

·        Kallanish Energy (Dec 13, 2016) – EPA takes the time, spends the money, but can’t say fracking is bad – or good

 

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