The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is undertaking a national study to understand the potential impacts of oil and gas hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” on the quality and quantity of drinking water in the United States. The EPA released a progress report in December 2012, and then released a final draft assessment report for scientific peer review and public comment on June 5. Members of the public are invited to review the report and submit comments electronically to the EPA until August 28.

Environments claim that fracking is distracting private energy firms and the government from investing in renewable sources of energy and it encourages continued reliance on fossil fuels, and that natural gas, while cleaner, is still a fossil fuel. Yet, fracking has undeniably played a large part in the United States becoming energyindependent and has created many well-paying jobs in this country.

Critics point out that huge amounts of water must be transported to the fracking sites at significant cost in a country that is striken with major areas of drought, particularly in the Southwest. The water mixture contains potentially radioactive and carcinogenic chemicals, which may escape and contaminate groundwater in the form of flowback water that flows back to the surface during and after the completion of fracking. The fracking process can cause small earth tremors around the fracking site. Critics say that spills and accidents are far too common. They point out that fracking is exempt from major environmental laws.

According to www.dcbureau.org, “in 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act into law (then Senator Barack Obama supported the bill) with a provision that specifically exempted fracking activities from certain provisions in the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act. The provision is known as the ‘Halliburton loophole’ as it was included at the request of then Vice President Dick Cheney. The loophole has successfully removed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate fracking.”

According to wikipedia.org, Halliburton is an American multinational corporation, and one of the world’s largest oil field services companies with operations in more than 80 countries. Former Vice President Dick Cheney resigned as CEO of Halliburton on July 25, 2000, prior to the national election of 2002.

According to www.foodandwaterwatch.org, “Fracking, also called ‘hydraulic fracturing,’ is a destructive process that corporations like Halliburton, BP and ExxonMobil use to extract natural gas and oil from rock that lies deep underground. They drill a deep well and inject millions of gallons of toxic fracking fluid – a mix of water, sand and harsh chemicals – at a high enough pressure to fracture the rock and release the oil or gas. The entire process of fracking – from drilling a well to transporting waste – endangers our water and the health of our communities. There is clear evidence of the growing damage caused by fracking as some people who live near fracking sites have become seriously ill from drinking contaminated water. Others can light their tap on fire due to the amount of methane in their water. The oil and gas industry isn’t required to disclose the chemicals they use in the fracking process, but many are known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens.”

Communities with fracking have reportedly seen declines in property values, increases in crime, and losses in local tourism and agriculture. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, can leak from fracking industry sites. According to an article entitled “Drillers Silence Fracking Claims with Sealed Settlements” posted on June 6, 2013, at bloomberg.com, “in cases from Wyoming to Arkansas, Pennsylvania to Texas, drillers have agreed to cash settlements or property buyouts with people who say hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, ruined their water, according to a review by Bloomberg News of hundreds of regulatory and legal filings. In most cases homeowners must agree to keep quiet. The strategy keeps data from regulators, policymakers, the news media, and health researchers, and makes it difficult to challenge the industry’s claim that fracking has never tainted anyone’s water.”

Forbes magazine’s oil and gas analyst, Michael Lynch, published a commentary entitled “EPA and Fracking Opponents: It Was Never About the Science!” in the June 5 issue of the magazine, “There has been a lot of hullabaloo about the new fracking study by the EPA which found minimal problems from the practice. The oil industry hailed it as exculpatory while most environmentalists denounced it or claimed gaps in the analysis. What it really said is that fracking is pretty much like everything else we do: screw it up, and there will be problems. Even though I have been called an industry hack (or flack) by those opposing my views, I still maintain that regulation of the practice is required: self-regulation doesn’t work.”

The EPA issued a final draft assessment on June 5, which reportedly described fracking as having minimal problems. The public has until August 28 to go onto the EPA website and submit their comments after which time, the EPA will issue their final report.

Val Philbrick works in the production department of the Journal Tribune as a pre-press person. She is a member of PETA and the Humane Society of the United States.