Panel of scientists, including several from N.C., disagree with EPA’s rosy fracking report

Panel of scientists, including several from N.C., disagree with EPA’s rosy fracking report

- in Environment, Featured Articles
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(Image: Wikimedia)

More than two dozen scientists, including several from N.C. State and UNC Chapel Hill, have criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 draft fracking report, stating it downplays the risks that horizontal drilling poses to local water supplies.

This is the conclusion of the EPA’s independent science panel, which recently released its own report asking the agency to incorporate its findings, according to Inside Climate News, which published a story yesterday.

These findings have implications for North Carolina, where fracking is legal. Although no commercial drilling has occurred, the state department of Environmental Quality contracted with a private company to drill test holes in four counties: Scotland, Hoke, Cumberland and Stokes. Only Stokes County merited further investigation.

Thirteen other counties in North Carolina could be targeted for fracking because they sit on land thought to have pockets of natural gas:  Rockingham, Granville, Orange, Durham, Chatham, Wake, Lee Moore, Richmond, Montgomery, Anson, Davie and Yadkin.

The science panel’s six-page report painstakingly points out the many shortcomings of the EPA’s data, such as its lack of analysis of the hazardous chemicals and their byproducts used in fracking.

Nor did the EPA consider the myriad ways people and the environment could be exposed to fracking chemicals: bad well construction, abandoned wells and the movement of drilling fluids beneath the ground and the treatment of fracking wastewater, to name a few.

Fracking, which requires millions of gallons of water, could deplete drinking water from private wells.

This is from the report:

“… the potential for water availability impacts on drinking water resources is greatest in areas with high hydraulic fracturing water use, low water availability and frequent drought.”

Concerns about water quantity — as well as water quality — are valid. The state’s climate is erratic, and it’s common for parts of North Carolina to be in a drought for some of the year.

In August 2015, all of the targeted fracking counties were in either a “moderate drought” or classified as “abnormally dry,” according to the NC Drought Monitor.

In spring 2011 and 2012, these same areas experienced moderate to severe droughts.

The EPA’s data and findings were incomplete in at least two cases, one in Pennsylvania and another in Wyoming, in which the agency prematurely ended its investigation into possible contamination from fracking operations.

The North Carolina scientists on the panel are Joel Ducoste, a professor, and Christopher Frey, a distinguished professor, at N.C. State University. Both are in the Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering Department. David Richardson, an associate professor in UNC’s Department of Epidemiology is the third panelist.

Ducoste also serves on the the Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel, along with Peter Bloomfield, an N.C. State University professor of statistics, and Cass Miller, distinguished professor of environmental engineering at UNC Chapel Hill.

The panel suggested that the EPA revise its report to address the gaps in the data. The EPA told Inside Climate News that it would consider the panel’s conclusions, along with other literature and public comments before issuing its final report later this year.

N.C state government map of areas where natural gas reserves are suspected.
N.C state government map of areas where natural gas reserves are suspected.