Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., July 2, 3 or 4
This came to mind when newspaper headlines about an Environment Protection Agency report on side effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) were compared to its actual conclusions.
Here’s a sampling of headlines from June: “EPA: No widespread harm to drinking water from fracking” (Associated Press); "Fracking doesn't harm drinking water: EPA" (New York Post); "Fracking doesn't pollute drinking water, EPA says" (Newsweek); and "EPA: Fracking has no broad impact on drinking water" (USA Today).
The Peoria Journal Star said, “Fracking exonerated in EPA drinking-water study” above a news story by Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick, who actually wrote that the review “also warn[ed] of the potential for contamination from the controversial technique used in oil and gas drilling.”
Hardly an exoneration.
No, the EPA said fracking has been found to contaminate water, but media’s misleading characterization played down the danger.
True, the EPA said it "did not find evidence" of "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources." However, the 600-page study’s 28-page executive summary says, "There are above- and below-ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources," and identified "specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells."
That’s an EFFECT, really.
Fracking is the practice of drilling thousands of feet into rock, fracturing ancient formations, and injecting at high pressure sand, millions of gallons of water, and some 400,000 gallons of undisclosed chemical additives, from lubricants to solvents, to crack open pockets of oil and natural gas.
Pekin native Sandra Steingraber, a respected biologist and author (“Living Downstream”) said, “Shale gas extraction from fracking is an accident-prone, carcinogen-dependent enterprise that turns communities into industrial zones. The jobs that fracking provides are temporary, toxic and carry high rates of injury, [bringing] temporary riches for a few and risk permanent ruin for many.”
The EPA said, “Specific concerns have been raised by the public about the effects of hydraulic fracturing on the quality and quantity of drinking water resources [because] millions of people live in areas where their drinking water resources are located near hydraulically fractured wells” and listed some problems: “Up to nine out of 36” wells examined in Pennsylvania “are impacted by stray gas (methane and ethane) associated with nearby hydraulic fracturing activities; two Texas water wells near fracking operations were affected by increased presence of brines; and drinking-water monitoring wells had “chemicals or brine” from a blowout that happened during fracking in North Dakota.
In Illinois, fracking rules were OK’d in 2013 by a vote of 109-9 in the House and 52-3 in the Senate, and thousands of leases reportedly have been signed along downstate’s New Albany shale formation.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce once claimed that 47,000 new fracking jobs could result (while conceding that fracking is “unproven” and that its recommendation didn’t account for environmental impacts). Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich says jobs promised there haven’t happened.
In Washington, the EPA said its research was limited by insufficient data, a lack of long-term studies, and inaccessible information, which it said "preclude a determination of the frequency of [drinking water] impacts with any certainty."
The oil and gas industry blocked EPA access to fracking data, according to InterClimate News.
Geochemist Geoffrey Thyne, a member of an EPA Science Advisory Board – an independent group of scientists who reviewed the study’s plan – commented, “This was supposed to be the gold standard. But they went through a long bureaucratic process of trying to develop a study that is not going to produce a meaningful result.”
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, added, “The study released falls far short of the level of scrutiny and government oversight needed to protect and health and safety of the millions of American people affected by drilling and fracking for oil and gas. It is outrageous that the oil and gas industry refused to cooperate with the EPA. This reveals the undue influence the industry has over the government and shows that the industry is afraid to allow careful monitoring of their operations.”
Nevertheless, the study at least concedes that fracking has been found to contaminate water.
However, much misleading media coverage is providing cover for industry to foul the country’s drinking water.
That’s an effect, too.
[PICTURED: Cover page of EPA report's executive summary.]