On December 8, the EPA issued a draft report on fracking in Pavillion, Wyoming.
The report said:
“Data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing.”
The media immediately proclaimed that fracking was responsible for contaminating water supplies.
But is the media correct in jumping to that conclusion?
The IPAA and AXPC, industry groups, quickly raised questions about the EPA’s report.
Questions were also raised by Wyoming state officials about the quality of the EPA report.
Briefly here are some of the issues raised about the EPA report.
- There were improperly tested samples from six drinking water wells (admitted to by the EPA).
- Contamination was found in pure water control samples (cited by Wyoming Water Development Commission).
- Test wells were not properly purged before taking samples (cited by Wyoming Water Development Commission).
- Insufficient number of samples (cited by Wyoming Water Development Commission program manager and professional geologist).
- The pH value used by the EPA as proof of fracking contamination could easily have come from dense soda ash or cement used by the EPA when drilling the test wells, while the materials used by Encana had a near neutral pH level.
- The assertion by Encana, that it “never used a peroxide breaker or gasoline in the Pavillion field”, rebuts the EPA assertion that “Tert-butyl-alcohol” found in the tests are attributed to Encana’s fracking.
- Ketones found in test samples by the EPA are “not used in hydraulic fracturing.”
- According to Encana, “the majority of man-made organic compounds detected by the EPA are not used in hydraulic fracturing and were introduced by the EPA in the process of sampling or construction of the deep wells.”
There are several other, ever more complicated issues that undermine the EPA’s assertion that, “ground water [impacts] can be explained by hydraulic fracturing” or the more radical media assertions that fracking caused contamination of water supplies.
Many wells in the Pavillion area have been contaminated for many years. Complaints about contamination resulted in the EPA conducting the tests that are now under scrutiny. It’s not known whether the contamination has been a natural result of the local geology or because of the drilling of gas wells in the area.
The comment period for the EPA report ends on March 12th, so it will be awhile before a peer review of the report will be completed.
We can, however, reach two, possibly three, conclusions.
- Whatever the outcome of the Pavillion report, it will have virtually no bearing on fracking elsewhere in the United States. Geologic conditions in the Pavillion area are unique and not generally found elsewhere, so results cannot automatically be extrapolated to other areas.
- That there was contamination from surface water storage or due to defective cementing of casings, which would exonerate fracking.
- Environmentalists, and possibly the EPA, will continue to condemn fracking, no matter the outcome of the peer review of the EPA report.
Additional information is available at:
For EPA draft report, go to http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/wy/pavillion/EPA_ReportOnPavillion_Dec-8-2011.pdf
For Encana technical briefing, go to http://www.encana.com/pdf/news-stories/encana-pavillion-technical-briefing.pdf
For Casper Wyoming Tribune Editorial, go to http://trib.com/opinion/editorial/epa-document-barrage-adds-nothing-to-fracking-debate/article_9224dc98-81c9-5050-ae07-8d0496ade2ba.html
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