EPA chickens out on fracking report

  • Published on June 27th, 2013

The good news: The EPA came up with a report that seemed to prove beyond a doubt that fracking was contaminating groundwater.

The bad news: There was so much whining and moaning about the report on the part of industry (those guys who are, you know American Frackic - farms go for quick cash now, trash water quality for lifecontaminating your groundwater) that the EPA has decided they will just give up on issuing the report at all and instead let the dispassionate and totally-not-in-the-bag State of Wyoming re-conduct the investigation instead. Sometime in 2014.

And it may well play out that the  State of Wyoming will simply subcontract the study to the frackers themselves (“independent experts”). Energy company Encana has reportedly put up $1.4 million to assist. Ain’t that neighborly of them?

Jeff Locker, a farmer from the Wyoming town of Pavillion where the water started smelling funny and people started getting sick after the frackers moved in, said, “The state of Wyoming is already on record, through action and inaction, as denying that Pavillion’s groundwater contamination is a cause for concern.”

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“We went to EPA for help after the state of Wyoming and Encana refused to address the public health impacts of unbridled development in the Pavillion area,” the chairman of the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens  told the Washington Post. “Now Encana has bought their way back in and is working with the state on a strategy to cover up the mess they’ve created. Our government’s priority is clearly to protect industry rather than Wyoming citizens, our health and our property values.”

Sarah Gilman of High Country News has the backstory:

Residents of Pavillion, Wyoming, had been complaining for years that their well water started smelling and looking foul after the oil and gas company EnCana began drilling in a previously drilled field near their homes. Some contracted weird health problems, including neurological disorders and rashes, after drinking or bathing in the stuff.

After their concerns were essentially passed over by both EnCana and the state of Wyoming, the EPA stepped in to conduct its own tests in 2008. As ProPublica and High Country News reported, the agency found suspicious quantities of hydrocarbons and trace contaminants in residents’ wells that could be linked to gas development. Then, after drilling two 1,000-foot-deep monitoring wells, the agency found high levels of benzene and other carcinogens in the deep groundwater underlying Pavillion.

Well, that doesn’t sound good, does it?

The EPA looked at the evidence, concluded that while some shallow waste-disposal pits may have contributed to the mess, “the data fracking graphic Some rights reserved by darthpedriusindicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing”.

As Amy Mall recounts at the Natural Resources Defense Council‘s Switchboard blog,

EPA proposed three possible ways that the fracking chemicals could have gotten into ground water:

  • poor well construction
  • fracking fluid moving through underground formations
  • fracking creating new fractures or enlarging existing ones and thereby increasing the connectivity of the fracture system.

In 2012, the United States Geological Survey released its own data from Pavillion, consistent with the findings from EPA.

But all that science just wasn’t enough. And now, after 5 years of investigations, the EPA has punted it back to the industry cronies who were ignoring the problem in the first place.

As the inimitable Charles Pierce says at Esquire’s Politics Blog:

The administration simply can’t get it right on fracking. It knows what it knows about the environmental impact of the process, but it’s so locked in against coal that fracking for natural gas looks like the only viable alternative that it can get past the hysterical screams of the extraction industries and their congressional hirelings. So, as the author points out here, the EPA comes out tough, only to have its work buried because the national response on environmental issues is hopelessly muddled by politics, money, and the unholy marriage of the two. I mean, Jesus, benzene in the drinking water? Somebody should probably do something about that.

And this is all part of a disturbing pattern on the part of the EPA and the Obama Administration to back down in the face of any pushback on the part of the energy industry.

Which makes you wonder – how much of Obama’s ambitious battle plan on climate change will survive contact with the enemy?


About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.