WASHINGTON (AP) — Hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread harm to drinking water in the United States, but the controversial drilling technique could affect drinking water if safeguards are not maintained, the government said Thursday.
A draft report released by the Environmental Protection Agency found several specific instances where poorly constructed drilling wells and improper wastewater management affected drinking water resources. But it also said the number of cases was small compared to the large number of wells that use hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.
The assessment tracked water used throughout the fracking process, from acquiring the water to mixing chemicals at the well site and injecting so-called "fracking fluids" into wells, to collection of wastewater, wastewater treatment and disposal.
The report identified several vulnerabilities to drinking water resources, including fracking's effect on drought-stricken areas; inadequately cased or cemented wells resulting in below-ground migration of gases and liquids; inadequately treated wastewater discharged into drinking water resources; and spills of hydraulic fluids and wastewater.
Improved drilling techniques have led to a surge in fracking in recent years that has fueled a nationwide boom in production of oil and natural gas, as fracking wells sprout up from California to Pennsylvania. Fracking involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to split open rocks to allow oil and gas to flow.
Improved technology has allowed energy companies to gain access to huge stores of oil and natural gas underneath states from coast to coast but has raised widespread concerns that it might lead to groundwater contamination and even earthquakes.
EPA officials said the draft assessment will give state regulators, tribes, local communities and industry an important resource to identify how best to protect public health and drinking water resource.