EPA study scrutinized by groups

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft assessment for a study on the effects hydraulic fracturing [fracking] could have on localities’ drinking water.

The EPA compiled data from numerous peer-reviewed researcher papers, government reports and industry information to analyze the potential effects of fracking.

Groups such as the Natural Resource Defense Council have lauded the study for its scientific analysis and importance, but have also noted that the study is missing information.

Amy Mall, the council’s senior policy analyst, noted, “Part of the challenge is that we don’t have adequate data in a lot of places to understand exactly what may have happened.”

One such aspect that the EPA found in it is the lack of baseline data, which would amount to testing the water prior to any fracking occurring, and comparing the data once it is in place.

Mall said that this would provide localities’ water quality data to compare if there are any impacts that occur due to fracking.

Mark Frondorf, Shenandoah Riverkeeper, stated in an email that the draft is a “good first step” and that “much more science needs to be done to systematically look at fracking and the dangers and risks involved.”

Frondorf added, “The EPA study was site-specific so significant risks may have been overlooked in their compilation of studies.”

One of the draft’s major findings is that the practice of hydraulic fracking has ways in which it can impact drinking water resources, but that none of them were widespread.

For example, the EPA noted that a spill of chemicals used in the fracking process could contaminate drinking water if the chemicals reach surface water. This was reportedly the case in 13 of the 151 instances that the EPA analyzed for its study.

It was also stated that none of the chemical spills it analyzed reach ground water sources, but that it could happen over time.

In one study the EPA analyzed from Kentucky, a spill of fracking chemicals contaminated one town’s surface water “relatively quickly” and reduced its pH level.

Frondorf said, “Americans should have a fundamental right to clean drinking water and the EPA study found that fracking has contaminated drinking water around the country.”

Hydraulic fracking is an energy practice that could be featured in Virginia in the near future. Back in November, the George Washington National Forest approved its forest management plan, which allows fracking in sections of land that have been designated for that purpose.

The draft is up for public comment and will be peer-reviewed by a scientific advisory board. The full draft assessment can be read online at: http://www2.epa.gov/hfstudy.

“It still remains to be seen what the final outcome of this study is, but I think it sheds light on the fact that water has been contaminated by fracking,” Mall said.

She added, “It just shows that there are real risks out there, and that we need much stronger regulations and we need much stronger enforcement to protect our drinking water.”

Public comments for draft assessment can be submitted at: http://1.usa.gov/1B3vnjh.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com