Obama's Grand Finale on Fracking Is Too Little, Too Late

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An oil-drilling rig near Douglas, Wyoming, on November 22, 2013. A federal judge on June 21, 2016, struck down an Obama administration regulation on the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas on public lands. (Photo: Kevin Moloney / The New York Times)

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally admitted what the rest of us already know: Sometimes fracking pollutes drinking water.

On Tuesday, the EPA issued a report on fracking’s impacts on drinking water supplies. The media described the report as “long-awaited” and “highly anticipated” because it’s taken the EPA more than half a decade to put it together.

The first draft of the report was issued last year and recently became mired in controversy after journalists discovered that officials sought to downplay its most controversial findings by inserting language at the last minute. Now, in the final days of the Obama administration, the EPA is coming clean.

For those seeking stronger water protections, the report is way too little, way too late. Yes, advocates can use the report to challenge attempts by the incoming Trump administration to slash environmental regulations, but don’t expect Donald Trump’s EPA to read it and propose new ones.

What does the report say? In summary, fracking can pollute sources of drinking water when operators build faulty wells, suck up limited groundwater resources, suffer accidents and spills involving toxic fracking chemicals, or store fracking wastewater contaminated with these chemicals in unlined pits.

These problems don’t always happen, but they can and have in the past. What remains unclear is how often. In a fact sheet, the EPA said that “data gaps and uncertainties made it difficult to fully assess impacts” both nationally and in local areas. Such data is often difficult to collect or not collected…

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