EPA finds no evidence of pollution from fracking

The Environmental Protection Agency says it has found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing or fracking as it is better known, led to widespread pollution of drinking water.

While the long-awaited study was welcomed by the oil industry and its backers, environmental groups were quick to criticise it.

"We found the hydraulic fracturing activities in the United States are carried out in a way that has not led to widespread systemic impacts on drinking water resources,"  Tom Burke, science adviser and deputy assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Research and Development said.

He added, in fact, the number of documented impacts to drinking water resources is relatively low when compared to the number of fractured wells.

Burke said the EPA's draft assessment was conducted at the request of Congress and it was the most complete compilation of scientific data to date, including over 950 sources of information, published papers, numerous technical reports, information from stakeholders and peer-reviewed EPA scientific reports."

Thanks to fracking, drillers were able to tap oil and natural gas reserves at one time considered off-limits deep underground. That had led to a boom in drilling across the country delivering a significant boost to the country's oil and natural gas production. However,  environmental groups had long argued that fracking came with a cost to the environment, especially to water and had called for stronger regulations and even bans on fracking altogether.

Burke described the study as a new lens so better decisions could be made about public health.

The report, which was issued in draft form following three years of study, however cautioned that safeguards were still needed as some drinking water had been contaminated. (Also see: UK water companies warn of drinking water contamination from fracking).

The entire fracking process was studied by federal researchers in their report, from the acquisition of water to the disposal of wastewater.

The researchers looked closely at thousands of pages of studies and conducted their own investigations of fracking, in which natural gas and petroleum are tapped from deep below the surface.

Burke said the researchers simply followed the water. He said they looked at each stage of the hydraulic water fracturing cycle to determine the potential impact on potential drinking-water resources.

(Also see: Fracking may affect air quality and human health: study).