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EPA concludes fracking has not caused widespread damage to water supplies

WASHINGTON – Six months after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo banned fracking in New York State citing safety concerns, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Thursday concluded that the natural gas drilling practice has not done grave damage to the nation’s water supplies.

In a long-awaited study that the agency billed as the most comprehensive ever done, the EPA said that while water quality problems have occurred at specific well sites, such problems are few and far between.

“Based on available scientific information, we found that hydraulic fracturing activities in the U.S. are carried out in a way that has not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources,” said Tom Burke, science advisor and deputy assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “In fact, the number of documented impacts to drinking water resources is relatively low compared to the number of fractured wells.”

The EPA’s study, years in the making and based on 950 separate sources of information, prompted two congressional Republicans to immediately call on Cuomo to reverse the fracking ban.

“Hopefully the governor will reconsider his ban and allow this to move forward,” said Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, who created a Marcellus Shale Caucus when he was elected to the House in 2010 in order to promote fracking.

“We’re talking 54,000 jobs in the state according to the governor’s own report on the matter,” said Reed, whose district includes much of the state’s most gas-rich property.

Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, agreed.

“I fully expect Gov. Cuomo to reverse his previous decision to ban fracking, which was based upon controversial scientific studies and made to appease far-left environmentalists,” said Collins. “Hardworking New Yorkers deserve the job opportunities and economic growth fracking has clearly produced in other states, including neighboring Pennsylvania.”

The EPA cautioned, however, that fracking can pose water quality risks in specific situations.

For example, wells that are not properly cased can allow gas to seep into water supplies, which is more likely when fracking occurs in land formations containing drinking water.

In addition, inadequately treated fracking wastewater can be harmful if discharged into drinking water supplies, as can spills of such wastewater and spills of hydraulic fluids used in the fracking practice.

Fracking can also lead to water withdrawals in areas where water is scarce, the EPA said.

Noting that the study cited such risks, environmentalists insisted the EPA research shows that Cuomo was right to ban fracking in the state.

“Despite serious shortcomings, including the fact that the oil and gas industry refused access to collect the data needed, the EPA study clearly shows that fracking has been impacting and contaminating drinking water,” said John Armstrong of Frack Action. “All water is connected. Any sign of drinking water contamination signals a public health crisis and is a call for a ban.”

email: jzremski@buffnews.com