The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

EPA Water Study Supports Safe Fracking

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted June 4, 2015

After five years and millions of taxpayer dollars, EPA says what we in industry and others have said for some time: Safe hydraulic fracturing doesn’t threaten our drinking water. The salient quote from EPA’s draft report about fracking and associated operational components:

“We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

coverEPA’s findings discredit scaremongering used by fracking opponents and should help focus attention where industry is and has been focused – on continuous improvements in operational skill, guided by a set of rigorous best practices, and on technological advances.

EPA’s findings also effectively endorse the strong environmental stewardship that is being exercised by state regulators, who have been busy while EPA studied. During the years EPA gathered information (2009-2013), state agencies created an estimated 82 groundwater-related rules for oil and natural gas production – as well as hundreds of discrete rule changes – according to the Ground Water Protection Council. API Upstream Group Director Erik Milito:

“Continuous safety improvements have been an ongoing part of hydraulic fracturing for 65 years. That process will continue, with our support, under the oversight of state regulators who are most familiar with their own area’s unique geology, hydrology, and other physical characteristics. … Hydraulic fracturing has been used safely in over a million wells, resulting in America’s rise as a global energy superpower, growth in energy investments, wages and new jobs.”

Key points from EPA’s draft:

  • Study scope – EPA assessed water acquisition for fracking, the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, well injection processes, flowback and produced water from drilling and wastewater disposal – including reuse, treatment and disposal of wastewater generated at the well pad.
  • State and local oversight – The varied nature of specific examples of water withdrawal issues “emphasize the need to focus on regional and local dynamics when considering potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing water acquisition on drinking water resources.”
  • Chemicals – EPA said chemicals used in fracking fluids (about 0.5 percent of the mix) vary from location to location – again, underscoring the primacy of local and regional oversight.
  • Migration from fracking – EPA said “numerical modeling and microseismic studies based on a Marcellus Shale-like environment suggest that fractures created during hydraulic fracturing are unlikely to extend upward from these deep formations into shallow drinking water aquifers.”
  • Water use – On a national scale fracking uses billions of gallons of water, but that’s less than 1 percent of total annual water use. “In our survey of published literature, we did not find a case where hydraulic fracturing water use or consumption alone caused a drinking water well or stream to run dry,” EPA said.

Bottom line: There’s not a lot that’s new here – and that’s a good thing. While the EPA draft mentions “potential” impacts, it said the “number of identified cases … was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells” – 25,000 to 30,000 new wells drilled and hydraulically fractured annually between 2011 and 2014.

Safe, advanced hydraulic fracturing/horizontal drilling is the locomotive of America’s ongoing energy revolution, harnessing oil and natural gas from vast shale and other tight-rock formations. And it should continue in that role.

Because of fracking, there’s support for 2 million U.S. jobs and more energy, with domestic supplies of oil and natural gas putting downward pressure on energy costs – strengthening America in the world. Without fracking, there’s no revolution, less energy, fewer jobs, and the United States is less secure in the world. 


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.