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Science Advisors Question EPA's Fracking Report

Some scientists are up in arms after a much-anticipated Environmental Protection Agency report says the agency did not find evidence that fracking contaminates drinking water.

Fracking, shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, is the process of harvesting oil and gas from shale rocks using high-pressure liquids to create rifts in the rocks, forcing the oil and gas upward. Proponents say it can help the U.S. reduce its dependence on foreign oil, while creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

But critics say fracking harms the environment by creating noise and air pollution and potentially contaminating ground and surface water near the fracking sites.

The latter has been a point of contention for years between the pro- and anti-fracking camps, and the EPA's latest report has done little to  assuage the fears of fracking critics. The report was commissioned by lawmakers to study concerns about fracking's environmental impact, The Washington Post notes.

"We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States," a draft of the EPA report reads. "Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells."

But the EPA's Science Advisory Board, which is comprised of outside experts, took issue with the report over semantics, saying the draft "did not support quantitatively its conclusions about lack of evidence for widespread, systemic impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources," according to Ars Technica.

The outside scientists also said the EPA did not clearly define what it means when using words like "widespread" and "systemic," arguing those terms are generic and don't provide the generic public with enough information about how the agency reached its conclusions.

Four members of the advisory board disagreed with the others, saying the draft's wording is “clear, unambiguous, concise, and does not need to be changed or modified.”

Ars Technica notes that some of the scientists who approved of the EPA draft's wording have ties to the oil industry, while HotAir notes several of the critical scientists are long-time fracking opponents and political appointees.

Scientists will have to agree upon a middle ground before the 160-page report is approved for final publication.

Sources: Ars Technica, HotAir, The Washington PostThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency / Photo credit: Joshua Doubek/Wikimedia Commons

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