The EPA reverses course, admits fracking might pollute groundwater

The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded hydraulic fracturing, the process by which energy companies pump huge amounts of water and chemicals underground to break up rock and release deposits of fossil fuels, can contaminate groundwater supplies, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

The agency struck language from a 2015 study saying there is "no evidence that fracking systemically contaminates water," with EPA science adviser Thomas A. Burke telling the Times the agency's "scientists concluded it could not be quantitatively supported."

According to the Hill, the EPA concluded fracking could pollute areas with low groundwater supplies, where wells have low structural integrity, and where fracking chemicals or other pollutants are inadvertently spilled or injected into water supplies.

Fracking is one of the key technologies behind a boom in United States energy production in recent years. Earlier this year, fracking reached 50% of total U.S. oil output, up from less than 2% at the turn of the century. As the Times noted, the practice is currently subject to only light regulations; President Barack Obama has only instituted "one rule intended to protect water from fracking waste," though it only applies to the 10% (roughly 100,000) fracking wells on public lands.

The technique is reviled by environmental activists, both because the fracking boom has potentially postponed transitions to alternate green sources of energy, and because of widespread accounts of pollution, environmental impacts and health problems among people who live near the wells.

Republican President-elect Donald Trump, however, is bullish on both fracking and traditional fossil-fuel drilling and mining operations. He has made no secret of his plans to deregulate the energy sector, and openly flaunts the scientific consensus on climate and environmental issues. At a speech to investors in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in September, Trump promised "to lift the restrictions on American energy and allow this wealth to pour into our communities — including right here in Pennsylvania. The shale energy revolution will unleash massive wealth for American workers and families."

As president, Trump's EPA could simply revise the report. His proposed head for the agency, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, is a climate change skeptic who is currently suing the EPA to roll back greenhouse gas regulations introduced by President Barack Obama.