Policy Update

Final EPA Report Shows Fracking Can Impact Drinking Water



NCEL Point of Contact

Ava Gallo
Climate and Energy Program Manager


The EPA issued a final report on December 13th analyzing the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, and concluded that these activities can impact drinking water resources. The agency previously released a draft version of the report last year that concluded fracking had no “widespread systemic impacts to drinking water resources.” That finding drew criticism from the scientific community, including the EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Board, which provides scientific advice to the Administrator. The concerns were that the EPA failed to define “systemic” or “widespread,” and neglected known cases of drinking water contamination.

The final report omits the controversial line, stating that it “could not be quantitatively supported,” and instead highlights circumstances where drinking water can be impacted. The EPA also acknowledges that gaps in publicly available data and other uncertainties limited their ability to study the severity of impacts or frequency of drinking water contamination.

The report identified the following areas where water impacts can be more frequent or severe:

  • Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources;
  • Spills during the management of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources;
  • Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources;
  • Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources;
  • Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water resources; and
  • Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.


You can stay updated on fracking legislation, research, and reports at ncel.net/fracking

The EPA report and associated press release are available here: https://www.epa.gov/hfstudy

A news story on the EPA report is available here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/13/us/reversing-course-epa-says-fracking-can-contaminate-drinking-water.html