EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman Fracking Memo to Vice President Dick Cheney (2001)

The oil and gas industry got a huge boost when Dick Cheney, the CEO of Halliburton, became vice president in 2001. At the time, fracking was unknown to the broader public. But an energy policy task force Cheney helmed in spring 2001 highlighted fracking’s potential, and it recommended a comprehensive exemption to the federal Safe Water Drinking Act for all types of fracking, not just for coalbed methane, which EPA was studying at the time. The EPA cautioned against an overly broad approach.

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman wrote to Cheney in May 4 2001, “I strongly suggest limiting the recommendation to the problem we know about—hydraulic fracturing for coalbed methane. Otherwise, before the (coalbed methane) study is completed, we are potentially walking into a trap because we don’t yet know the environmental consequences of the broader exemption, or why it is needed.”

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Working Draft Document of EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Report – Chapt 6 (2003-4)

The Cadmus Group, the contractor hired by the EPA under the George W. Bush administration to study the risk of fracking to drinking water, concluded that monitoring of fracking activities and more information from industry would be needed to quantify the risk.

The EPA decided the study’s conclusion should be that fracking did not pose a threat to groundwater and therefore did not require further study or federal oversight.

Even before the final report came out, the Cadmus scientists realized that their findings about risks to underground drinking water diverged from what the EPA wanted.

In this EPA working draft document, for instance, Cadmus recommended revisions to reflect complaints by some Virginia residents about possible contamination of their water from fracking. The contractor raised the question of an investigation to see if the complaints were warranted. The final version did not include the changes Cadmus recommended, and EPA did not launch an inquiry into the complaints.

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EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Project Status Update (March 2004)

The Massachusetts firm The Cadmus Group was hired by the EPA under the George W. Bush Administration in 2002 to write its study on fracking. That study would go on to conclude that fracking poses no risk to drinking water. That finding was the basis for the Halliburton loopole in the Energy Policy Act, which exempted fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The study faced obstacles from the outset, according to EPA documents and Cadmus staff, who ultimately disagreed with the conclusion imposed by the Bush EPA and asked to have their names removed from the document.

A March 3, 2004, EPA agenda entitled “Hydraulic Fracturing Project Status” listed among the tasks “Soften conclusions and ES [Executive Summary].” 

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Working Draft Document of EPA Hydraulic Fracturing Report (2003-4)

The Halliburton loophole, which exempts fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, was justified by an EPA study about fracking completed under the George W. Bush administration. The study concluded that fracking posed no risk to drinking water.

However, a working draft of the study prepared by a government contractor suggested that fracking could pose risks to drinking water. The EPA changed parts of that draft.

In drafts of the executive summary, for example, typically a report’s most widely read section, the authors referred to potential threats to public health as the reason for the study. “The goal of this Phase I study was to determine if a threat to public health exists as a result of USDW [Underground Sources of Drinking Water] contamination from hydraulic fracturing fluid injection into CBM [coalbed methane] wells, and if it does, whether the threat is great enough to warrant further study,” the authors wrote.

The final version of the report omits mention of public health except in the discussion of methodology and in paraphrasing public comments deep into the 463-page study.

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