In 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency released a report on how oil and gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing in the USA impacts local water sources. They identified some key factors which make local water sources potentially vulnerable to the activities of hydraulic fracturing, but drew no strong conclusions linking hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking', to contamination and a marked reduction in water supplies.
Its conclusions were controversial and the debate is still alive. Between 2009 and 2021, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection identified 374 cases in which it determined that a water supply was affected by oil and gas activities, following complaints from local residents, including complaints of dry wells or water cloudy and brown. Entre 2009 y 2021, el Departamento de Protección Ambiental de Pensilvania identificó 374 casos en los que determinó que un suministro de agua se vio afectado por actividades de petróleo y gas, siguiendo las quejas de los residentes locales, incluidas las quejas de pozos secos o agua turbia y oscura.
The EPA report reflects the potential for such effects of fracking on water supplies: it identifies several key factors that make water sources vulnerable: namely, the spillage of hydraulic fracturing fluids that could reach water sources. groundwater, fluid injection, and fracking chemicals. in wells, the discharge of wastewater from the hydraulic fracturing process into surface water resources and the contamination of groundwater from discharged hydraulic waste. In addition to contamination, there is also the risk that fracking could negatively affect the availability of water in the area; which the reports of dry wells attest.
Yet, despite synthesising over 1,200 data sources and collaborating with local stakeholders, the EPA declared in their report that their results are ultimately inconclusive because of a lack of data. That data which they vitally needed was from oil and gas companies themselves.
The EPA recommends that focusing on these key factors can lead to further identifying how the impact of hydraulic fracturing on local water cycles could be reduced, or even prevented altogether, but that further research would be needed in order to draw wider conclusions on the extent of the national issue of how local water supplies are affected by hydraulic fracturing.
Transparency can be a hinderance towards research. Yet, this kind of research could assuage the worries of local residents in areas where hydraulic fracturing takes place, or is proposed to take place. To what extent data needs to be shared in order to facilitate environmental research is a live issue in this ongoing debate.
- U.S. EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). 2016. Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States. Executive Summary. Office of Research and Development, Washington, DC. EPA/600/R-16/236ES.
- Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection – Water Determination Letters.