On the surface, the report looked like a pretty hefty win for the oil and gas industry. After all they’ve held for years that fracking is perfectly safe and doesn’t negatively affect water resources. So, the EPA finding no evidence seems like vindication.
“We’ve known all along that when you apply the proper science and you follow the protocols that are established that recovering minerals of property owners is a very safe process.”
That’s Todd Staples. He’s a president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association. He’s careful to use words like proper science and protocols when talking about fracking. Because the report also shows that when it’s not done right – fracking can cause pollution. Casing and cement on injection wells have to work. They’re in place to help protect groundwater. And then there’s the water that’s used in the process that gets mixed with chemicals and sand. That water has to be handled properly after use, as well.
So at the end of the day – or a four-year long study…what’s the takeaway?
“They didn’t make any pronouncement that there is no risk nor did they make any pronouncement that the country is in grave risk, but they did scientifically demonstrate areas where there have been problems.”
That’s Jim Bradbury. He’s an environmental attorney based in Austin. He says the EPA wouldn’t have committed this much time and these many resources to tell us something they could sum up in a Twitter post.
“Be careful,” Bradbury says. “No matter what side of the political spectrum somebody is coming from if they’re telling you, ‘ah ha! This EPA report’ which I have no idea how much it weighs if you printed it all, really spells quickly and clearly that there are no risks or there are catoscrophic risks…that person that is telling you that is selling you something as opposed to telling you something.”
Okay, so is this just going to be something that we have to deal with every time a study like this comes out? Bradbury thinks probably so. But he says the onus is on both sides to read and analyze the full report and acknowledge all of the findings – not just the ones that help your argument.
“The report itself is lengthy but there’s an excellent executive summary and even that requires a little time to dive into,” he says. “But if you’re going to engage in that conversation about the risks or lack of risks, you have to at least be at that level of understanding of what the EPA is saying.”
And Todd Staples says his association is prepared for the subsequent studies that are sure to come out in the coming years.
“You know the reality is the oil and gas industry welcomes studies,” Staples says. “We invest quite a bit ourselves – our companies do – to ensure that minerals are recovered efficiently and effectively. So this will be one of many in the future, I’m sure.”
At the end of the day, fracking is probably not going to be against the law in Texas anytime soon. Even New Yorkers are thinking about the consequences of their state banning the practice. And the lost revenue for landowners. Here in Texas, the legislature that just concluded even made it illegal for individual cities to ban the practice. Regardless, the conversation is going to continue.
And it’s not only water resources. Just ask the folks in north Texas, who’ve been feeling the rumblings of earthquakes for a few years now. A study released this year concluded wastewater injection wells likely caused quakes near Fort Worth. But in a meeting late last week, the state’s regulatory body, the Railroad Commission, said they’re not convinced the injection wells were the cause of the seismic activity.
A four-point-oh magnitude earthquake in Venus, Texas last month caused the commission to order four wells be temporarily shut down and tested. Results of those tests should be available to the public this week.