Weeks before it gets an exceptionally fracking-friendly new chief, the Environmental Protection Agency has done a U-turn on the threat the process may pose to drinking water. The final version of a long-awaited report has removed a sentence that says fracking is not having a "widespread, systemic impact" on America's water, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The report now leaves open the possibility that fracking could be having a major impact. "While the number of identified cases of drinking water contamination is small, the scientific evidence is insufficient to support estimates of the frequency of contamination," EPA spokesman Thomas Burke tells the Wall Street Journal. "Scientists involved with finalizing the assessment specifically identified this uncertainty in the report."
The report had been in the works since 2010 and industry groups slammed the EPA for reversing course just before President Obama leaves office. Environmental groups, however, praised the agency for delivering a conclusion they said was based on science instead of political considerations. "This report acknowledges what far too many communities across this country know to be true—fracking is a threat to our clean drinking water," Madeleine Foote of the League of Conservation voters tells the New York Times. "Given EPA administrator nominee Scott Pruitt's record of fighting fracking regulations, it will be important during the confirmation process for senators to ask him if he will follow the recommendations of the agency's scientists, or continue to rely on industry spin." (The EPA shut down 17 wells after a strong quake in Oklahoma earlier this year.)