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A man from Dimock, Pa., holds up a jug of brown-colored tap water in front of an EPA building.

"The Sierra Club is pleased to see the EPA's Science Advisory Board called out the agency's conclusion that there is no 'widespread, systemic' evidence that fracking contaminates drinking water for what it is: not supported by scientific facts," said the director of the organization's Dirty Fuels Initiative. (Photo: Food & Water Watch)

EPA's Own Advisory Board Demands Revision of Deeply Flawed Fracking Report

Panel of independent scientists tells EPA to revise report that said fracking did not have "widespread, systemic impacts" on drinking water

Nika Knight

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Science Advisory Board, a panel of independent scientists, is calling on the agency to revise last year's much-maligned report that declared fracking to have "no widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources."

"The EPA's own analysis shows that dirty oil and gas fracking contaminates drinking water, confirming what millions of Americans already know."
—Lena Moffitt, Sierra Club

As the Washington Post reports:

The conclusion was widely cited and interpreted to mean that while there may have been occasional contamination of water supplies, it was not a nationwide problem. Many environmental groups faulted the study, even as industry groups hailed it.

But the 30-member advisory panel on Thursday concluded the agency's report was "comprehensive but lacking in several critical areas."

It recommended that the report be revised to include "quantitative analysis that supports its conclusion"—if, indeed, the conclusion can be defended.

Environmentalists lauded the advisory panel's comments [pdf]. Lena Moffitt, director of the Sierra Club's Dirty Fuels Initiative, responded in a press statement:

The Sierra Club is pleased to see the EPA's Science Advisory Board called out the agency's conclusion that there is no 'widespread, systemic' evidence that fracking contaminates drinking water for what it is: not supported by scientific facts. The EPA's own analysis shows that dirty oil and gas fracking contaminates drinking water, confirming what millions of Americans already know.

Lauren Pagel, policy director of the sustainability advocacy group Earthworks, responded to the board's comments with a call to end fracking. "The science is in. EPA knows that fracking pollutes drinking water. Now is the time for us to move away from this dirty fossil fuel and replace it with clean energy that does not harm public health," Pagel said in a statement.

And Hugh MacMillan, senior researcher at Food & Water Watch, told InsideClimate News: "The EPA failed the public with its misleading and controversial line, dismissing fracking's impacts on drinking water and sacrificing public health and welfare along the way. We are calling on the EPA to act quickly on the recommendations from the EPA [Science Advisory Board] and be clear about fracking's impacts on drinking water resources."

"The EPA failed the public with its misleading and controversial line, dismissing fracking's impacts on drinking water and sacrificing public health and welfare along the way."
—Hugh MacMillan, Food & Water Watch

InsideClimate News delved into the advisory panel's rationale:

The [Science Advisory Board]'s report criticized the [EPA] study on a range of fronts. In particular, the panel said that the EPA erred by not focusing more on the local consequences of hydraulic fracturing. "Local-level impacts, when they occur, have the potential to be severe," the panel wrote.

The EPA should have more thoroughly discussed its own investigations into residents' complaints of water contamination in Dimock, Pa., Parker County, Texas and Pavillion, Wyo., the panel said. In both cases, EPA scientists and consultants had found early evidence of contamination, but the agency ended the investigations before further monitoring or testing could be done.

"Examination of these high-visibility cases is important so that the reader can more fully understand the status of investigations in these areas, conclusions associated with the investigations, lessons learned, if any, for the different stages of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle, what additional work should be done to improve the understanding of these sites," the [Science Advisory Board] wrote.

Agency spokeswoman Melissa Harrison responded to the advisors' comments in an email to InsideClimate News: "EPA will use the [science advisory board's] final comments and suggestions, along with relevant literature published since the release of the draft assessment, and public comments received by the agency, to revise and finalize the assessment."

The scientists' recommendation follows a whistleblower's charge earlier this year that questioned the EPA's conclusions regarding toxic methane emissions from fracking.

As Moffitt argued: "Instead of blindly allowing destructive fracking to continue in our communities, we should extend statewide fracking bans and moratoriums that will keep dirty, climate-polluting fossil fuels like fracked gas in the ground and invest in truly clean, renewable sources of energy that don't come with the threat of poisoned drinking water and climate disaster."


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