EPA implicates fracking in groundwater pollution
By Mead Gruver
CHEYENNE, WYO.: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday for the first time that fracking — a controversial method of improving the productivity of oil and gas wells — might be to blame for causing groundwater pollution.
FILE - In this Sept. 10, 2009 photo, Louis Meeks holds a jar filled with water from a contaminated well on his property near in Pavillion, Wyo. The ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is asking the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for more information about an EPA investigation into groundwater contamination in a Wyoming gas field. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a letter Tuesday to explain a recent comment she made about the contamination in the Pavillion area in central Wyoming. Jackson told a Bloomberg news program last month that a petroleum industry practice called hydraulic fracturing could have affected nearby areas containing groundwater. (AP Photo/Casper Star-Tribune, Kerry Huller,)
The draft finding could have significant implications while states try to determine how to regulate the process. Environmentalists characterized the report as a significant development though it met immediate criticism from the oil and gas industry and a U.S. senator.
The practice is called hydraulic fracturing and involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to open fissures and improve the flow of oil or gas to the surface.
The EPA found that compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals had been detected in the groundwater beneath Pavillion, a small community in central Wyoming where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals. Health officials last year advised them not to drink their water after the EPA found low levels of hydrocarbons in their wells.
The EPA announcement could add to the controversy over fracking, which has played a large role in opening up many gas reserves, including the Marcellus shale in the eastern United States in recent years.
The industry has long contended that fracking is safe, but environmentalists and some residents who live near drilling sites say it has poisoned groundwater.
The EPA said its announcement is the first step in a process of opening up its findings for review by the public and other scientists.
“EPA’s highest priority remains ensuring that Pavillion residents have access to safe drinking water,” said Jim Martin, EPA regional administrator in Denver. “We look forward to having these findings in the draft report informed by a transparent and public review process.”The EPA also emphasized that the findings are specific to the Pavillion area. The agency said the fracking that occurred in Pavillion differed from fracking methods used elsewhere in regions with different geological characteristics.
The fracking occurred below the level of the drinking water aquifer and close to water wells, the EPA said. Elsewhere, drilling is more remote and fracking occurs much deeper than the level of groundwater that would normally be used.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas Resource Management has said it has no evidence of fracking causing groundwater contamination problems in Ohio.
Ohio is on the verge of a major drilling boom into the Utica shale that lies under the eastern half of Ohio. That drilling relies heavily on the use of fracking.
Ohio officials continue to say they are confident that the state can manage the drilling without creating health or environmental problems.
But critics worry about contaminated aquifers and polluted air from the drilling.
Environmentalists welcomed the news of the EPA report, calling it an important turning point in the fracking debate.“This is an important first indication there are potential problems with fracking that can impact domestic water wells. It’s I think a clarion call to industry to make sure they take a great deal of care in their drilling practices,” said Steve Jones with the Wyoming Outdoor Council.
Calgary, Alberta-based Encana owns the Pavillion gas field. An announced $45 million sale to Midland, Texas-based Legacy Reserves fell through last month amid what Encana said were Legacy’s concerns about the EPA investigation.
Encana spokesman Doug Hock said there was much to question about the draft study.
The compounds EPA said could be associated with fracking, he said, could have had other origins not related to gas development.
“Those could just have likely been brought about by contamination in their sampling process or construction of their well,” Hock said.
The low levels of hydrocarbons found in local water wells likewise haven’t been linked to gas development and substances such as methane itself are naturally occurring in the area.
“There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered. This is a probability and it is one we believe is incorrect,” Hock said.
Sen. James Inhofe said the study was “not based on sound science but rather on political science.”
“Its findings are premature, given that the Agency has not gone through the necessary peer-review process, and there are still serious outstanding questions regarding EPA’s data and methodology,” the Oklahoma Republican said in a statement.Wyoming last year became one of the first states to require oil and gas companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in fracking.
Beacon Journal staff writer Bob Downing contributed to this report.
Thank God for the EPA! We must not sell out our drinking water! After all, is it not written in the Holy Bible--"For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?" Or in this case, our drinking water, but then again, how would life be able to continue without fresh drinking water?
By the way, Yes-I believe in Jesus Christ the Risen Lord, the Son of God, the Lion of Judah; But Not the 'Holy Republican Party' as preached by all to many 'Social Conservatives'. Yes, the United States of America is a secular nation, which means any one and every one has the same right to disagree with me as I do to disagree with them.
Most especially since there are other energy alternatives, which also create jobs.