Conclusions about the safety of hydrofracturing have been overstated, according to a former Environmental Protection Agency official who oversaw a 2004 study on the controversial natural gas drilling technique, according to the New York Times. Ben Grumbles, who ran EPA's Office of Water, stated recently that the EPA study didn't deem all hydrofracturing (also known as "fracking") to be safe, and it didn't justify exempting all forms of it from drinking water protections.
The 2004 study found that in certain circumstances, fracking presented "little or no threat" to drinking water. Grumbles recently wrote about the 2004 hydrofracturing study in an article he wrote for the non-profit he runs, Clean Water Alliance America. "EPA, however, never intended for the report to be interpreted as a perpetual clean bill of health for fracking or to justify a broad statutory exemption from any future regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act," he wrote.
The former assistant EPA administrator says that after five years and a nationwide surge in drilling, it might be time to take another look at the exemption, which was included in a 2005 energy bill. "A lot has happened since 2005 and, in my view, it makes sense to review the Safe Drinking Water Act landscape as well as the relevance of Clean Water Act programs," he said.
According to the Times report, the surge in drilling made possible by advances in fracturing technology is in shale gas, he said, "which is different from fracking for coal bed methane, the primary subject of EPA's 2004 report." EPA was called on to study hydrofracturing after an Alabama court ruled in 1997 that that EPA should be regulating coal bed methane fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act's Underground Injection Control program. An EPA commission of experts, including several from industry, reviewed existing literature and concluded in the final 2004 report that fracking presented "little or no risk" to underground drinking water. In 2005, Congress cited the report in justifying a fairly broad statutory exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act's underground injection control regulatory program.
Click here to read Ben Grumbles' article for the Clean Water America Alliance.