API-commissioned study backs EPA’s fracing, drinking water findings

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s original conclusions that no studies or data have indicated a widespread, systematic effect on drinking water resources as result of hydraulic fracturing are correct, a study commissioned the American Petroleum Institute found. There is sufficient monitoring in place, overseen and enforced by state authorities, to continue gathering data to support those conclusions, the Catalyst Environmental Solutions study added.

EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board said in a peer review in August of the agency’s 2015 draft of a multiyear study to determine whether fracing poses a threat to drinking water supplies did not quantitatively support that conclusion (OGJ Online, Aug. 15, 2016). It also recommended that EPA discuss significant data limitations, as documented in the draft report’s body, when presenting the major findings.

CES’s study, which API released on Nov. 17, said that other recent comprehensive studies—particularly one in 2015 by the California Council on Science & Technology—reached similar conclusions to the draft’s findings. Industry practices and state regulations minimize risks, limit incidents, and provide for continued studies and monitoring, it added.

“The final copy of [EPA’s] report is due out before the end of the year, and it has plenty of supporting evidence for its conclusion,” API Upstream and Industry Operations Director Erik Milito told reporters in a teleconference. “Yet, hydraulic fracturing and peer-reviewed studies continue to face misinformed attacks on scientific conclusions that support the value and safety of the process.”

Noting that the SAB’s call for more clearly describing the systems of interest, the scale of impacts, and the definitions of terms, he said that volumes of such quantitative support already exist, and EPA based its original findings on numerous studies and data points which already exist.

“In noting that 25,000-30,000 new [fraced] wells are created annually, EPA concluded that the few instances of potential impairment are neither systemic nor widespread,” Milito said. “Its definition of drinking water—any body of ground or surface water that could be used, now or in the future, for public or private [purposes]—is broader than most federal and state regulatory definitions

EPA should reiterate its support for conclusions in the draft and explain why when it issued its final report, Milito said. “We are concerned that if EPA does not follow the science, facts, and data, policymakers in other governments could reach the wrong conclusion,” he said. Policymakers in places like Maryland, New York, and European countries should realize when they look at this that the study is based on the latest, greater science which affirms this top-line conclusion.”

Fracing is gaining more support around the world as a way to increase production from tight shale formations, particularly since using more gas to generate electricity is reducing carbon emissions, he observed. “We’re seeing a lot of momentum in support of fracing in places like England, where they’re moving forward and drilling more wells,” Milito said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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