By Mark Green
In a piece authored for The Hill’s Congress Blog, the Institute for Policy Innovation’s Merrill Matthews argues that EPA’s final hydraulic fracturing study should keep the conclusion set out in the report’s 2015 draft, in which the agency said it found no evidence fracking has led to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”
Indeed, that’s what EPA should do. Consider: EPA spent five years and tens of millions of dollars assembling the data and case studies that produced the science-based conclusion above. Though the chartered Science Advisory Board said in August that the report’s top-line conclusion was vague and needed additional “quantitative” support, recent analysis of EPA’s research by Catalyst Environmental Solutions (CES) found no scientific reason for the agency to back track on its conclusion:
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.
With EPA’s finalize report expected any day now, Americans should ask what scientific evidence has EPA accumulated since August that would compel the agency to drop or water down its conclusion. The answer is simple: None. The science and the data led to the conclusion in EPA’s 2015 draft report. The agency should stand by it. Any other outcome would be bowing to political arguments, not scientific ones. Here’s what API President and CEO Jack Gerard wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in August:
“Widespread” and “systemic” are not vague terms and frankly, the evidence is overwhelming. There exists no drinking water contamination in the Marcellus, the Utica, the Barnett, the Permian, the Eagle Ford, the Woodford, the Fayetteville, the Haynesville, the Bakken, the Denver-Julesburg, the Piceance, the Raton, or any other shale formation where oil and gas resources are being developed through hydraulic fracturing. There are no examples of systemic operational issues that result in contamination in any of these formations, let alone many examples of widespread contamination in any formation.
Gerard noted that McCarthy also vouched for the conclusion during a House hearing in March, quoting her:
“It was clearly a necessary study for us to do. Very often when we put out a science study, people will pick and choose sentences in it. We did say we did not have evidence of widespread systemic impacts on drinking water.”
The reality is McCarthy and a number of present and former administration officials have talked about the safety of hydraulic fracturing in connection with the nation’s groundwater supplies. Here’s a sampling:
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to Great Britain’s Channel 4 News in 2014:
“Certainly to my knowledge, we continue to not see examples of the fracking itself, the hydraulic fracturing, compromising fresh water. … We need to keep reducing the environmental footprint, but we also need to recognize two things with our natural gas revolution. One I’ve already alluded to – tremendous economic benefits. But the second we should not lose sight of is the expansion of natural gas use, most especially for electricity generation, has been a major contributor to our reduction in CO2 emissions.”
The takeaway from all of this is clear: Should EPA decide – for reasons that clearly would be divorced from the science and the data – to retreat from the draft report’s conclusion, the agency also would retreat from statements like those above and potentially harm the technological engine driving an American energy renaissance that is boosting our economy and individual households, strengthening U.S. energy security and advancing key climate and health goals.