After six years of investigation, the Environmental Protection Agency declared this week that fracking contaminates water.
The agency’s report found evidence that fracking led to contaminated water in all stages of the process, and left out a key phrase in an initial version of the report that said, “no evidence that fracking systemically contaminates water.”
For the environmental community, this is a major validation. After years of lobbying against fracking — a method of extracting natural gas deep within the Earth — and achieving a patchwork of laws banning fracking on the state and local levels, it finally has the backing of the chief environmental regulatory body in the country.
“This report acknowledges what far too many communities across this country know to be true — fracking is a threat to our clean drinking water,” Madeleine Foote, of the legislative representative for the League of Conservation Voters, told The New York Times.
“Given EPA administrator-nominee Scott Pruitt’s record of fighting fracking regulations, it will be important during the confirmation process for senators to ask him if he will follow the recommendations of his agency’s scientists, or continue to rely on industry spin,” she said.
Trump’s nominee to lead the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is an ardent champion of fossil fuels and Trump himself has said that he wants to dramatically expand fracking.
While the agency hasn't denounced fracking, it is acknowledging that fracking poses significant risks at every stage of the process. The EPA reviewed more than a thousand studies on fracking in the past six years, conducted independent research, and published 13 peer-reviewed studies.
Despite its earlier stance, the agency was less confident in its position that fracking did not harm drinking water as more research piled up.
Fracking is a violent procedure. It involves drilling enormous holes, blasting apart deposits of rock, and injecting millions of gallons of wastewater into the ground. Then there's the transportation of natural gas. Just as crude oil pipelines break and leak, so, too, do natural gas pipelines — the only difference is that gas is much harder to contain and stop than liquid.
All across the country, people have reported pollution from fracking.
In the states that have enthusiastically embraced fracking, the consequences have been extreme. In Oklahoma, where Pruitt is the attorney general, fracking has caused an astonishing increase in earthquakes that have helped to extensively contaminate water supplies.
Fracking has been pitched as a bridge to renewable energy. In reality, it’s in the same league as coal, following the fossil fuel credo of ripping up the Earth for profit.
As a rigorous scientific agency, the EPA needs to back every statement with air-tight evidence. Since fracking is still relatively new, the research is still being compiled and so any statements have to be carefully developed.
But as more evidence comes to light, it’s becoming more clear that fracking has little place in a world of renewable energy.
Whether or not this awareness actually affects the incoming administration is still up for debate.