EPA study shows fracking pollutes drinking water

Analysis shows fracking wells like this one can have major impacts on drinking water in the area. (© iStock)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued new findings proving fracking can lead to water contamination that, in some cases, rendered private drinking water wells totally unusable. The findings come from a recently released EPA report summarizing scientific evidence of the impacts that fracking has on the nation’s drinking water. These impacts range in severity and frequency, from temporarily reduced water quality to water contamination.

EPA bases the conclusions in this long-awaited final report on more than 1,200 cited scientific sources, feedback from an independent peer review conducted by EPA’s Science Advisory Board, stakeholder input, and new research conducted as part of the EPA study.

EPA intends this report—the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on this issue—to provide “the scientific foundation for local decision makers, industry, and communities that are looking to protect public health and drinking water resources and make more informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing activities.”

The report confirms that many of the risks identified by Virginia’s King George County, its residents, and SELC when discussing that county’s recently adopted fracking ordinance, are conditions known to cause more severe or frequent harm to water resources. These fracking risk factors include:

  • water withdrawals in times of, or in areas with, low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources;
  • spills of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemical-laced fracking produced water;
  • injecting fracking fluids and chemicals into compromised wells;
  • injecting fracking fluids and chemicals directly into underground drinking water;
  • inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.

The first condition is especially relevant to potential fracking in the Taylorsville Basin, which underlies a large swath of eastern Virginia. For example, in Virginia’s Northern Neck and the Middle Peninsula, existing water uses already tax the region’s aquifers. Declining water levels, reversal of the hydraulic gradient leading to saltwater intrusion, as well as subsidence, and loss of water storage are concerns in this region.

These issues led the General Assembly, in 2015, to pass legislation establishing the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Advisory Committee to address critical groundwater-related issues in this part of the state. As the EPA report confirms, introducing a new water-intensive industry like industrial gas development with fracking could create serious risks for the region.

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