EPA Should Focus on Science, Not Spin
When It Issues Its Final Report
A news report has uncovered evidence suggesting that the Obama administration manipulated the EPA’s five-year-long draft study of fracking and drinking water to downplay pollution risks and shield the oil and gas industry from regulation.
The report by news organizations, Marketplace and American Public Media, found that in the six weeks before EPA released the draft report, officials inserted a line in the executive summary stating that researchers “did not find evidence” that fracking caused “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.” Marketplace also found that the news release announcing the draft report was modified the day before the report’s June 4, 2015 release to include an even more sweeping statement that “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”
The EPA’s science advisory board expressed concern this summer that this finding and others were “ambiguous and appear inconsistent with the observations, data, and levels of uncertainty presented and discussed in the body of the draft.” PFPI and other organizations had expressed similar concerns in comments to the science advisory board.
Nonetheless, news coverage of the report emphasized EPA’s statement of no “widespread, systemic” impacts, conveying the misleading impression that EPA had found drinking water supplies to be largely safe from fracking. The body of the 1,000-page report told a different story featuring documented incidents of pollution and numerous data gaps identified by EPA staff. Marketplace and American Public Media found that earlier versions of EPA’s draft more directly emphasized that fracking has polluted water in some instances. An earlier version of the news release contained the headline “EPA Identifies Potential Vulnerabilities to Drinking Water from Hydraulic Fracturing Process,” the news organizations found.
In hydraulic fracturing or fracking, oil and gas companies typically inject into wells at high pressure a mixture of up to millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals designed to fracture underground formations and liberate trapped oil or natural gas.
While the news organizations report that it is unclear who inserted the language or why, the changes are consistent with other Obama administration actions that have favored oil and gas drillers including decisions to end investigations and regulatory actions concerning oil and gas drilling pollution in Dimock, Pennsylvania; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyoming.
EPA is expected to release a final report soon. The agency should omit the misleading statement that they did not find widespread systemic impacts, and focus on science rather than spin.
Photo: Drilling rig on Colorado’s Roan Plateau. Credit: EcoFlight 2008.