Reversing course on its previous statements, the Environmental Protection Agency has finally admitted what most of us already knew – fracking can seriously contaminate water supplies. A study originally published in 2015 reassured readers that it had found “no evidence that fracking systemically contaminates water.” Now, that sentence has been removed due to a lack of evidence to support the conclusion.
It may seem like a small change, but it’s a chilling one: the EPA has found evidence that fracking has contaminated drinking water in all stages of the process. That means the potential for dangerous pollution is present when collecting water for use in fracking, mixing the water with additives to create fracking fluid, injecting the fluid underground, collecting the wastewater from fracking wells, and, of course, in storing that wastewater once it’s been used.
Still, knowing that fracking is so dangerous isn’t enough on its own to protect affected communities. Thomas A. Burke, the EPA’s science advisor, told the New York Times the issue requires more study and that the agency is unable to give policy recommendations based on the current data. At the moment, fracking is subject to only minimal federal regulations. The Obama administration has attempted to protect water from fracking waste, but the rule it’s put forth only applies to public lands – which affects only 10% of the nation’s fracking wells.
Even those scant protections may be overturned soon. The report is one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind ever published, and the timing seems carefully calculated: the final report comes just as Donald Trump is preparing to enter office, along with his anti-environment EPA pick, Scott Pruitt. Now that environmentalists finally have government-funded evidence that fracking can destroy water supplies, we need to do everything in our power to pressure Congress and the incoming administration not to loosen restrictions on fracking. The risk is simply too great.