The EPA Fracking Miracle

  • Date: 07/06/15
  • Editorial, The Wall Street Journal

So even the Environmental Protection Agency now concedes that fracking is safe, which won’t surprise anyone familiar with the reality of unconventional oil and natural gas drilling in the U.S. But if no less than the EPA is saying this, then the political opposition doesn’t have much of a case left.

“We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States,” the EPA observes in a 1,399-page report and multiple appendices. By mechanisms, the researchers mean the practice of injecting water and chemicals into shale at high pressure to extract oil or natural gas.

The environmental movement has stoked speculative fears about chemical mixes leaching into aquifers, poisoned potable water and toxic spills. States including New York, Maryland, California and Vermont have used this pretext for fracking moratoriums or bans. Yet the EPA study is the most exhaustive review ever conducted of the scientific literature and fracking in practice. Dozens of researchers spent five years and likely tens of millions of dollars.

EPA’s conclusion really is remarkable. The agency has yearned for an excuse to take over fracking regulation from the states, which do the job well. So if there was so much as a sliver of evidence that fracking was dangerous, the EPA would have found it. Think of this as the Obama Administration’s equivalent of the BushAdministration failing to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The truth is that state oversight, industry best practices and especially innovation in technology and engineering are more than adequate to protect water and the wider ecology, as well as the prosperity that fracking underwrites. The EPA paper even accepts that the domestic energy boom has “increased domestic energy supplies and brought economic benefits to many areas of the United States.”

Some areas—but not all. One exception is New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo banned fracking by executive order after winning re-election last year. The Democrat hinted during his campaign that he was open to drilling, especially upstate atop the oil-and-gas-rich Marcellus Shale that straddles Pennsylvania and the Empire State.

But suddenly his health department rolled out a report full of dubious science concluding that it could not say with “absolute scientific certainty”—as if such a thing exists—that fracking does not endanger the public. The department cited “potential water contamination” and “the potential to affect drinking water quality.”

In other words, Mr. Cuomo’s sleuths couldn’t find conclusive evidence that fracking harms drinking water, so he banned it until they can. Even as formerly depressed and deindustrialized Pennsylvania regions benefit from drilling, over the border the unlucky saps must bow to the green superstitions of New York City elites.

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