The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

The Quantitative, Scientific Support for Safe Fracking

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted November 17, 2016

As EPA nears the release of its finalized hydraulic fracturing/water report, the weight of scientific study and analysis backs the agency’s preliminary conclusion that there’s no evidence that fracking has led to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

Dozens of other recent studies reached similar conclusions – including peer-reviewed case studies and research by academics, government and industry, as well as state and federal regulatory reviews. Quantitative analysis of the recent, available research on fracking and water by Catalyst Environmental Solutions, commissioned by API, finds that EPA drew the right scientific conclusion in a draft version of its water study, released in 2015.

This quantitative analysis is important because, with anti-fracking activists assailing EPA’s conclusion, an advisory panel this summer recommended that the agency provide quantitative support for its finding. That support certainly exists, which suggests that some want to politicize the science in EPA’s study to advance an anti-fracking agenda. EPA should hold fast on the science and the facts in its study. API Upstream  and Industry Operations Director Erik Milito discussed the Catalyst analysis during a conference call with reporters:

“Catalyst points out that the EPA ‘finding makes sense.’ … That support, and numerous additional studies, underscores the fact that EPA should retain the science and the facts and carry forward its original conclusion. This is critical: The EPA must ensure that a report that will be viewed globally reflects the scientific evidence that exists. The focus must be on the facts and available science.”

The science says there is an extensive list of industry practices, industry trends and effective state and federal regulatory programs that protect water resources from potential fracking impacts at every step of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. Companies are continually improving their management of water resources during energy development – improving technologies and operations and reducing risks. Additionally, there are good monitoring systems in place, under state oversight, to continue gathering data supporting EPA’s conclusion. From Catalyst’s report:

EPA drew its conclusion that hydraulic fracturing does not cause widespread, systemic effects based on the state-of-the-science and employed a structured and logical method for assessing potential effects by focusing on those areas where ample hydraulic fracturing has occurred near drinking water supplies and residents.

More, and especially important:

If there was a significant correlation between impaired drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing, that connection would be manifested in the areas that EPA evaluated. This finding is corroborated by a large, credible body of case studies and scientific literature.

Catalyst reviewed a number of recent, water-related studies at various U.S. shale plays, taking in a range of conditions across the country:

catalyst_studies

Here’s a graphic from the Catalyst report, showing the depth of the energy-producing shale seam relative to the depth of treatable water resources in those plays:

catalyst_water

Studies explored the theoretical ways drinking water supplies could be impacted by fracking, including the migration of fracking fluids, compromised well casings and surface spills. Catalyst:

While these concerns occupy the public space, evidence (including from independent entities, EPA, and certain state government regulators) indicates that hydraulic fracturing of shale deposits is not directly linked to groundwater contamination. As in any other industrial activity however, surface spills can migrate and potentially affect water resources; robust regulatory frameworks and industry controls and good practices are in place to minimize and/or mitigate this pathway.

Catalyst’s analysis found that federal and state regulatory frameworks are built on a sound understanding of the potential risks to water supplies, leading to the development of specific safeguards for well design and construction, as well as equipment. Catalyst:

EPA’s finding of no widespread, systemic effects to drinking water resources from hydraulic fracturing is a reflection of the effectiveness of industry practices and regulatory frameworks in protecting this resource. It makes sense that the EPA would come to the conclusion it did, given the many measures and best practices implemented by oil and gas companies to ensure the protection of drinking water resources.

Beyond state regulations, Catalyst notes that the STRONGER program (State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations) has reviewed 22 state regulatory programs in producing states, including Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas. Catalyst:

Recent state water monitoring requirements are providing further quantitative support that hydraulic fracturing is not leading to widespread, systemic effects to drinking water resources. For example, a comprehensive monitoring program has just been initiated in California, based on an extensive study by Lawrence Livermore National Labs, Lawrence Berkeley Lab, and other universities. Existing data quantitatively supports EPAs principal finding, and ongoing monitoring provides additional assurance and a growing database to further prove out the finding. These governmental requirements have kept oil and gas development as one of the most highly regulated industrial sectors in the US.

Safe hydraulic fracturing is the technological engine driving an American energy renaissance that has made the United States the world’s leading producer of oil and natural gas. That leadership is boosting our economy, lowering energy costs for U.S. consumers and strengthening our energy security in the world while helping improve the quality of our air and advancing climate goals. It already is well regulated, by both federal and state laws and regulatory regimes – borne out by scientific analysis. Milito:

“While becoming the world’s leading producer of oil and natural gas, industry has also reduced carbon emissions from power generation to their lowest level in more than 20 years – making it clear that environmental progress and energy production are not mutually exclusive. None of this would be possible without hydraulic fracturing. With 65 years of experience and numerous studies already completed, it is clear that fracking is safe.”

Click here for Milito's full remarks, as prepared for delivery.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.