Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Larry Jackson/Richard Mylott):
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released a draft analysis of data from its Pavillion, Wyoming ground water investigation. At the request of Pavillion residents, EPA began investigating water quality concerns in private drinking water wells three years ago. Since that time, in conjunction with the state of Wyoming, the local community, and the owner of the gas field, Encana, EPA has been working to assess ground water quality and identify potential sources of contamination.
EPA constructed two deep monitoring wells to sample water in the aquifer. The draft report indicates that ground water in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing. EPA also re-tested private and public drinking water wells in the community. The samples were consistent with chemicals identified in earlier EPA results released in 2010 and are generally below established health and safety standards. To ensure a transparent and rigorous analysis, EPA is releasing these findings for public comment and will submit them to an independent scientific review panel. The draft findings announced today are specific to Pavillion, where the fracturing is taking place in and below the drinking water aquifer and in close proximity to drinking water wells – production conditions different from those in many other areas of the country.
Natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future and the Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that the development of this vital resource occurs safely and responsibly. At the direction of Congress, and separate from this ground water investigation, EPA has begun a national study on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.
“EPA’s highest priority remains ensuring that Pavillion residents have access to safe drinking water,” said Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver. “We will continue to work cooperatively with the State, Tribes, Encana and the community to secure long-term drinking water solutions. We look forward to having these findings in the draft report informed by a transparent and public review process. In consultation with the Tribes, EPA will also work with the State on additional investigation of the Pavillion field.”
Findings in the Two Deep Water Monitoring Wells:
EPA’s analysis of samples taken from the Agency’s deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicates detection of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels. Given the area’s complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to ground water contamination, EPA is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time.
Findings in the Private and Public Drinking Water Wells:
EPA also updated its sampling of Pavillion area drinking water wells. Chemicals detected in the most recent samples are consistent with those identified in earlier EPA samples and include methane, other petroleum hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds. The presence of these compounds is consistent with migration from areas of gas production. Detections in drinking water wells are generally below established health and safety standards. In the fall of 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reviewed EPA’s data and recommended that affected well owners take several precautionary steps, including using alternate sources of water for drinking and cooking, and ventilation when showering. Those recommendations remain in place and Encana has been funding the provision of alternate water supplies.
Before issuing the draft report, EPA shared preliminary data with, and obtained feedback from, Wyoming state officials, Encana, Tribes and Pavillion residents. The draft report is available for a 45 day public comment period and a 30 day peer-review process led by a panel of independent scientists.
For more information on EPA’s Pavillion groundwater investigation, visit: http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/wy/pavillion/index.html
More coverage from Mark Jaffe writing for The Denver Post. From the article:
“This could be a game changer,” said Frank Smith, an organizer with the Western Colorado Congress, an environmental group.
Wyoming and Colorado officials said the EPA data should first be carefully reviewed.
Warning that the EPA study could have “a critical impact on the energy industry and the country,” Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said more research has to be done.
David Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said the Pavillion results will be reviewed, adding that Colorado has rules to protect ground and surface water.
But Smith countered: “Colorado shouldn’t be so cavalier and overconfident about its rules. There is a lesson to be learned here.”
The three-year EPA study of complaints by ranchers and farmers about well pollution concluded: “The data indicates likely impact to groundwater that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing.” Among the potentially toxic chemicals found in an EPA test well were benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes and gasoline organics. The EPA report catalogued a host of problems at Pavillion, including leaking pits and inadequate well casings and cement jobs.
“It was a whole series of bad practices that led to this problem. Fracking was just one of them,” said John Fenton, a Pavillion farmer and chairman of the local concerned-citizens group.
More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:
The EPA is publishing the draft findings in order to obtain public comment and independent scientific review, but the report is sure to be used as the most solid piece of evidence to date that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” can taint groundwater. The oil and gas industry maintains the process has never been proven to communicate with drinking water supplies.
“EPA’s highest priority remains ensuring that Pavillion residents have access to safe drinking water,” Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver said in a press release. Martin is the former head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “We will continue to work cooperatively with the State, Tribes, Encana and the community to secure long-term drinking water solutions.
“We look forward to having these findings in the draft report informed by a transparent and public review process. In consultation with the Tribes, EPA will also work with the State on additional investigation of the Pavillion field.”
Pavillion is within the Wind River Indian Reservation. Residents there have been warned not to drink the local well water, and the Canadian oil and gas company EnCana has been supplying clean drinking water. However, the company disputes that fracking has led to well water contamination.
At the request of area residents, the EPA has been testing two deep water monitoring wells. “EPA’s analysis of samples taken from the agency’s deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicates detection of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels,” the report states.
“Given the area’s complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to ground water contamination, EPA is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time.”
More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:
U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., dubbing himself “the leading advocate for hydraulic fracturing in the United States Senate,” sent a letter this week to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Lisa Jackson accusing her of “contradictory” statements about the common but controversial oil and gas drilling practice.
Inhofe, according to the Associated Press, was referring to recent statements Jackson made about the EPA’s ongoing investigation of natural gas drilling in the Pavillion, Wyo., area. Jackson says hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could have impacted nearby groundwater supplies.
“This statement appears to contradict statements by you and other members of the federal government about hydraulic fracturing and drinking water contamination,” Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote to Jackson.
More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:
Colorado environmental activists used the draft report to reinforce their arguments for stricter controls on drilling. “Industry likes to say contamination from fracking is inconceivable,” said Colorado Environmental Coalition energy organizer Charlie Montgomery. “The EPA’s finding tells a different story, that contamination is a very real possibility and that communities today might be dealing with the fallout right now. While the announcement isn’t full confirmation of a missing link, the announcement suggests this is the time for maximum care and caution in how Colorado regulates fracking in our state.”
Fracking is short-hand for 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 industry has long contended that fracking is safe and poses no risk. According to a story from the Associated Press today, the EPA announcement is the first step in a process of opening up its findings for review by the public and other scientists.
The EPA emphasized that the findings are specific to the Pavillion area.
In Colorado, regulators are considering requiring oil and gas companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in fracking. The public and industry representatives packed an 11-hour hearing before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission over the issue on Monday, Dec. 5. One key issue is whether trade secrets would have to be disclosed and how quickly the information would have be turned over. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is scheduled to deliberate the proposed rules on Monday, Dec. 12.
More coverage from Eli Stokols writing for Fox31News.com. From the article:
Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has echoed the oil and gas industry’s standard defense that fracking has never been linked to any groundwater contamination, told FOX31 that the contamination in Wyoming is cause for some concern.
“The conditions in Wyoming are apparently quite different than conditions in Colorado,” said Eric Brown, Hickenlooper’s spokesman. “However, the information, if confirmed, underscores the importance of guarding against any contamination of groundwater from fracking operations.
“We still have no known positive contaminations from fracking in below-ground drinking water in Colorado,” Brown said. “That’s why it is so important to have effective disclosure rules and regulations.”
Here’s a release from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):
In a landmark new announcement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released draft findings that point to water quality concerns in Wyoming that may result from gas production and hydraulic fracturing in Wyoming. The draft analysis comes after a three-year study of drinking water wells in Pavillion, Wyoming, the first large-scale EPA investigation into potential drinking water contamination from fracking procedures.
In response to the release of the EPA draft findings, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) Lands Program Director Mike Chiropolos made the following statement:
“For years the oil and gas industry has argued that there is no chance that fracking will contaminate ground water sources, but this report appears to be a smoking gun against that claim.
“Let’s not forget the most important part here: People are getting sick. We can talk about specific chemicals and claims, but the bottom line is that people and families need to be safe. Nobody should have to worry about what comes out of their faucet.”
Earlier this week, Chiropolos testified before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) on the importance of closing the “trade secrets loophole” on fracking disclosures in Colorado. The COGCC is scheduled to deliberate on fracking disclosure rules on Monday, Dec. 12.
In addition to full disclosure of fracking materials, WRA continues to push for: Pre-Disclosure of fracking materials so that local governments know what they are dealing with before fracking operations begin; Dual- Disclosure of fracking materials on both the industry-sponsored Frac-Focus website and the COGCC website; and prevention of exemptions for individual companies such as Halliburton. Separately from disclosure, WRA has long advocated for baseline testing and ongoing monitoring of wells (including using inert markers to trace the movement of toxic chemicals) to ensure water safety.
According to a press release from the EPA, the report “indicates that ground water in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.” The fracturing taking place in Pavillion is below the drinking water aquifer and in close proximity to drinking water wells.
More coverage from the Northern Colorado Business Report:
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Ok.) blasted the EPA, calling its conclusions “not based on sound science but rather political science,” and that they were “part of President Obama’s war on fossil fuels and his determination to shut down natural gas production.”
Inhofe is the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Environmentalist had a different reaction.
“We have very serious concerns about the potential for fracking to contaminate drinking water sources here in northern Colorado. We look forward to the EPA’s full scientific review of this pollution in Wyoming and to how the alleged polluters will be held accountable,” said Gary Wockner, the Colorado director of Clean Water Action.
More coverage from Mead Gruver writing for the Associated Press via Boston.com. From the article:
“In Wyoming, EPA is recognizing what experts — along with families in fracking communities across the country — have known for some time,” Kate Sinding, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York City, said in an e-mail Thursday. “Fracking poses serious threats to safe drinking water.”[...]
The EPA emphasized that its announcement that it had found chemicals likely associated with gas production practices, including fracking, was just the first step in a review of its science. The draft report opens up a 45-day public comment period and a 30-day peer review process by independent scientists.
Even so, the oil and gas industry and its allies blasted the announcement as premature. “Unsubstantiated statements coming from the EPA today stretch the data and cause unwarranted alarm and concern about a proven technology that allows our industry to safely extract oil and natural gas. The EPA’s announcement is irresponsible and leads us to call into question its motives,” said Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming…
Sen. James Inhofe called the study “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…
…the compounds could have had other origins not related to gas development, said Doug Hock, spokesman for Calgary, Alberta-based Encana, owner of the Pavillion gas field. “Those could just have likely been brought about by contamination in their sampling process or construction of their well,” Hock said.
An announced $45 million sale of the Pavillion field to Midland, Texas-based Legacy Reserves fell through last month amid what Encana said were Legacy’s concerns about the EPA investigation.
The EPA, which has been studying the groundwater in Pavillion for more than two years, also emphasized that the preliminary findings are specific to the Pavillion area, not necessarily anywhere else in the U.S. The agency said the fracking that occurred in Pavillion differed from fracking methods used 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.
More Pavillion field coverage here. More oil and gas coverage here and here.