GRETCHEN GOLDMAN, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR SCIENCE AND DEMOCRACY | DECEMBER 13, 2016, 2:10 PM EST
The EPA removed language claiming that hydraulic fracturing has no “widespread systemic impacts” on drinking water from its final report on the subject. The move follows criticism from its Science Advisory Board and revelations by Marketplace that the report’s executive summary and press release may have been edited by non-scientists.
“No widespread systemic impacts”
In May 2015, EPA released its draft report and there were inconsistencies. The report itself covered the risks of fracking accurately: It found specific instances where well integrity and wastewater management related to hydraulic fracturing activities impacted drinking water resources and it identified several pathways through which the risk of water contamination exists, including spills, improper well construction, and improper disposal of wastewater. None of this was surprising for someone who was following the issue.
What was surprising was the way that the agency communicated those findings in the executive summary and press release of the draft. Inexplicably, these more public-facing report accompaniments downplayed the risks of fracking to drinking water, claiming “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread systemic impacts to drinking water resources,” as if this was the fundamental question. But the EPA wasn’t charged with assessing whether impacts were “widespread and systemic,” it was charged with assessing the risks. This raised questions about who wrote the press release and executive summary and why such a discrepancy existed between these materials and the final report.