The water Americans drink can be put at risk by hydraulic fracturing, an EPA assessment concludes. Photo by Gemenacom, courtesy iStockphoto

The water Americans drink can be put at risk by hydraulic fracturing, an EPA assessment concludes. Photo by Gemenacom, courtesy iStockphoto

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, has the potential to affect drinking water sources in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency announced in December.

EPA released its final assessment on the effects of fracking on drinking water — an inquiry that began at the request of Congress. Fracking is the process of injecting liquids at high pressures into the Earth to extract oil or gas. EPA’s report covers potential effects of the many stages of fracking, including acquiring the water used in fracking, mixing the water with chemical additives, injecting fracking fluids into oil or gas wells, and collecting and managing the wastewater that comes back to the surface after injection.

“EPA’s assessment provides the scientific foundation for local decisionmakers, industry and communities that are looking to protect public health,” said Thomas Burke, PhD, EPA science advisor and deputy assistant administrator of the agency’s Office of Research and Development, in a news release. “This assessment is the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on the relationship of drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing.”

The EPA report concluded that fracking can affect drinking water under some circumstances. Among the many factors and events that can harm drinking water are spills of fracking fluids and chemicals, the injection of fracking fluids into defective wells, the discharge of inadequately treated fracking wastewater into surface water and the disposal of fracking wastewater into unlined pits that may leak into nearby groundwater.

Visit The Nation’s Health online to continue reading this story from the February/March 2017 issue.