EPA Backpedals on Pavillion Fracking Contamination

In a U.S. House subcommittee hearing yesterday, EPA Regional Administrator James Martin backed off EPA’s previous stance that fracking causes groundwater contamination—at least not anywhere outside of Pavillion, Wyoming. You may recall the hubbub when the EPA released a preliminary report in December that “theorized” hydraulic fracturing in the Pavillion, WY area “may have” caused chemical contamination of “some” water wells in the Pavillion area (see this MDN story).

Drilling supporters quickly pointed out that a) the geology where the drilling occurred around Pavillion is porous sandstone, not tightly-packed shale, b) drilling was around 1,200 feet down, with the water table at 800 feet, far closer than shale gas drilling of a mile down with water tables around 300 feet, c) the two suspect wells where the EPA found chemicals were test wells the EPA themselves drilled, not previously drilled production wells, d) the findings are very preliminary, and have not yet been subjected to outside review.

With Congress now back in session, the EPA was hauled before a House subcommittee and grilled, and during that grilling they backed away from the earlier impression they created that Pavillion is the smoking gun that proves fracking causes chemical contamination:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in no way contends that a draft report on groundwater pollution in Wyoming could apply to hydraulic fracturing in any other part of the U.S., an EPA official told a U.S. House subcommittee.

That includes the Marcellus Shale, a vast area of booming gas drilling in Pennsylvania and other northeastern states, EPA Regional Administrator James Martin said Wednesday.

"The geologic conditions that exist with the Marcellus Shale are significantly different," Martin told the House Science Committee’s energy and environment subcommittee, which held a hearing in Washington on the draft EPA report released Dec. 8.

The report theorized that gas industry activity including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, may have caused groundwater pollution in the Wyoming community of Pavillion.*

But the EPA’s backpedalling doesn’t fool Rep. Ralph Hall (Republican, Texas). He said:

"It is important to recognize what EPA is doing in Wyoming is not isolated. They are going after fracking everywhere they can.”

Anti-drillers are desperate to prove a single connection of groundwater contamination with fracking. They were hoping Pavillion would be the first, and perhaps Dimock, PA would be the second. MDN points out the obvious: Assuming a worst-case scenario (and we don’t yet assume it), that both Pavillion and Dimock have caused groundwater contamination, as tragic as that is, it is still statistically zero out of the millions of fracked wells going back 50 years.

*CBS News/AP (Feb 1, 2012) – Reps. scrutinize EPA frack-pollution link in Wyo.

  • Anonymous

    “the EPA was hauled before a House subcommittee and grilled”

    By a House subcommittee on Science run by a Republican Congressman who got $62,700 in donations from the O&G lobby. This is from his opening statement: 

    “…in a remarkable display of arrogance and disregard for the plain facts, the President last week proclaimed his support for expanded shale gas production, while at the same time allowing every part of his Administration—from the EPA to Interior to the CDC—to attack these practices through scientific innuendo and regulatory straight-jacketing.”

    That’s what this is all about. Paying off politicians to force the Administration to abandon any attempt at oversight. 

  • Anonymous

    Your statistics are a bit off.  “Assuming a worst-case scenario”, then Pavillion and Dimock (and you might add Jackson, WV and Garfield, CO) show 100% pollution of the sample population of areas of gas extraction that have been intensively studied.  I know of no area that has been intensively studied where it has been demonstrated that pollution of the auqifer did not occur.

    And of your “million of fraced wells”, there are thousands of landowners nearby who have reported that their water wells were fouled, but which the industry works very hard to ignore.   To say nothing of those countless civil court cases where the evidence of pollution apparently was good enough that industry paid-off the claimants, but sealed the records and their voices.

    Your arguments remind me of decades ago when smokers were insisting that there was not one case of smoking proven to cause cancer.

    One does not have to be “anti-drilling” to want to know how safe drilling is today, and how to make it safer tomorrow.

  • Anonymous

    I guess then Obama himself is payed off as well. Lets look at his record shall we. Please read this article about all of the Green Energy companies that backed him in 08′ and will again in 12′  http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/11/13/how-obama-s-alternative-energy-programs-became-green-graft.html
     Bob, Do you really want to play this game? All politicians receive “political contributions” from special interest. You wrote your statement above like you uncovered a secret. Just to let you know, about 350 million people are on to that secret. I challenge you to find a “grass roots” politician who doesnt take any money from special interest to get themselves elected. If you find one I will then show a politician who will not be elected to a higher office. It is no secret the Republicans are backed by O&G. It is also no secret the Democrats are backed by Green Energy. If you did indulge me and read the article above, you can’t dispute it.
    I just wonder if you had the same “outrage” when Solindra walked away with $535M of our taxpayer dollars??

  • Anonymous

    BinFranklin, there is answers and remedy’s in place for all of the areas you mentioned affected by methane migration? or simply improper casing construction, or maybe human error. What ever the issue is do you really think that there is going to be a 100% safety record on all drilling sites? Are you that sheltered ?  Give me the percentages of wells that have any issues at all in comparison to how many that are in operation around the country? Its fractional. You know as well as I do that gas exploration is just that exploration. Rock formations change, depths of each well drilled is different, many variables there BinFranklin. You can never guarantee this type of construction, only improve on an already proven technique. These gas companies are always looking for a better, safer way, to extract the gas, its in their best interest. as well as the public’s. Oil companies have been doing the same type of drilling for many years, there has been some very serious spills and accidents (Alaska,Gulf) do we stop drilling because that may occur?No. Why are the Anti’s not screaming to stop Oil drilling? What about coal, I watched a 20/20 documentary on coal plants and the enormous amount of carbons being pumped into our air every day, the owner of the plant( in WV) even said it was horrible, but all he could say was homes need to be heated, along with local power needs,and this power is what is accepted. He stated that they burn 900 railroad cars full of coal every day( about 1 mile long). Where are all the Anti’s on that? This is the “new” in vogue thing to protest, only there are just way to many benefits that out weigh the negatives. Should I get into that or you already know it? Just 1 out weighs everything, getting off the OPEC stranglehold on this country. Isn’t that alone enough? Using our own products, saving a very large amount of money for each and every American household. I wont go on about Jobs and all the other benefits ,you heard that one a lot. Be realistic about drilling, there will never be a 100% safety record., and remember that all these people that are affected by contamination are receiving large sums of money for leases and royalties,on top of that the Gas companies are compensating them handsomely for their troubles. These folks would have never seen that kind of money in their lifetime period. So,its hard for me to feel bad when Mr.and Mrs. Smith ( ex dairy farmers) received millions of dollars for their leaky well. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/morton2 Cal Morton

    Wow, I hadn’t read that about his opening comments… its like having rotten, spoiled children ‘running’ the country.

  • http://www.facebook.com/morton2 Cal Morton

    How much have mineral extraction companies walked away with in ITC’s over the last 90 years? 

  • Anonymous

     Well said. I would only add that a cop on the beat is still necessary because , as in every endeavor , there is that 10% that are unethical and corrupt. The EPA is a ponderous, clumsy , irritating beast but they are necessary for our protection.  

  • Anonymous

    Cal are you asking me to do your homework?? Maybe this is the question. If mineral companies did receive subsidies, did they produce a viable energy source, creat jobs, and successfully aid in the country’s independence of foreign oil? If they did, then was the taxpayers monies spent wisely and did the country benefit from what was produced??

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