One of its most controversial announcements in years, the US government's environmental regulator announced on Thursday that fracking is no cause for alarm.

Hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" as it is commonly referred to is an oil extraction process from shale rock. It's generally considered to be faster and more efficient than more traditional oil drilling, and many energy analysts credit fracking with an oil boom in the US over the past five years.

Environmentalists, however, argue the process contaminates local water supplies with chlorine, methane and other chemicals.

But in a new report, the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says they are not concerned.

"We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States," their assessment concluded.

"We found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells."

Scientific understanding

The oil industry and its supporters in the US Congress are rejoicing.

Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, a leading proponent of fracking, responded to the report saying it "confirms what we have known for over 60 years when the process began in Duncan, Oklahoma - hydraulic fracturing is safe".

But environmentalists are putting their own spin on it pointing to the fact that the EPA noted fracking is not without its problems.

"There are still significant gaps in the scientific understanding of fracking," says Amy Mall, Senior Policy Analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

"This study is site-specific and limited, as EPA has explained which makes it impossible to fully understand all the risks at this time."

Source: Al Jazeera