A rare piece of good news for Wisconsin businesses out of the EPA yesterday (June 4, 2015). After years of study the EPA concluded that fracking poses no “widespread, systematic harm to drinking water.” The whole study can be viewed here. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking for short) is a technique used by natural gas and oil companies to fracture rock by using hydraulically pressurized water, sand, and chemicals injected into a well to release oil and natural gas that had been previously trapped.
Fracking has become controversial in recent years due to the proliferation of the industry into more populated areas. This expansion has helped reinvigorate the United States’ domestic energy production and economic growth allowing the U.S. to become one of the largest natural gas producers in the world. However many have long been concerned about the effects fracking may have on groundwater.
While Wisconsin does not have any natural gas or oil fields within its borders to frack, fracking has been an economic boon for Wisconsin. This is because Wisconsin is one of a few suppliers of a necessary material for fracking, silica sand. Western Wisconsin is a large provider of silica sand. Silica sand is what keeps the fissures created by the hydraulic fracking open, which allows the oil or gas to be released. Over the last four years it is estimated that silica sand mining has created thousands of jobs, more tax revenue, and new investment in the state.
However local governments have been placing moratoriums permitting new silica sand mines, in part, due to concern about directly supporting an industry that may pollute drinking water. While the EPA does note that there is some risk involved with fracking when wells are inadequately cased and waste-water is improperly treated or improperly discharged, the fears created by films like “Gasland” are largely unfounded. Supporting this notion the EPA stated that while there were “specific instances” where fracking “led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells….the number of identified cases…was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.” It will be interesting to see if Wisconsin localities lift their moratoriums or change their regulatory behavior in light of this study.