Fracking and the Contamination of Groundwater, EPA Censored Key Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Study by Steve Horn, July 30, 2013, Global Research
A must-read Los Angeles Times story by Neela Banerjee demonstrates that – once again – the Obama administration put the kibosh on a key Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) groundwater contamination, this time in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Though EPA said Dimock’s water wasn’t contaminated by fracking in a 2012 election year desk statement, internal documents obtained by LA Times reporter Neela Banerjee show regional EPA staff members saying the exact opposite among friends. “In an internal EPA PowerPoint presentation…staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production,” writes Banerjee.
“The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that ‘methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.’ The presentation also concluded that ‘methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work,” Banerjee further explained.
It’s essentially a repeat of Steve Lipsky’swater contamination by Range Resources in late-2010 in Weatherford, Texas. In that case, EPA conducted a taxpayer funded study, determined Range had contaminated his water, sued Range – and then proceeded to drop the suit and censor the study in March 2012.
EPA also recently kicked the can down the road on a high-profile fracking groundwater contamination study in Pavillion, Wyoming, originally set to come out in 2014. That release is now expected in 2016, another election year. Just days after EPA’s decision, a Duke University study again linked fracking to groundwater contamination in the Marcellus Shale. [Emphasis added]
EPA Whistleblower Says Fracking Contaminated Water by Chip Northrup, July 30, 2013, Shaleshockmedia blog
Ever wonder why the EPA backed off on its study of contaminated water in Pennsylvania. Because they were told to. And it wasn’t by Loophole Dick Cheney. An insider has the details on how and probably why the feds don’t go after the frackers
Leaked EPA document raises questions about fracking pollution by John Upton, July 29, 2013, Grist
The EPA isn’t looking too hard at what Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. is up to behind this fence, or anywhere else. The EPA doesn’t seem very interested in finding out whether fracking pollutes groundwater. … An internal EPA PowerPoint presentation prepared by regional staffers for their superiors and obtained by the L.A. Times paints an alarming picture of potential links between water contamination and fracking. And it reinforces the perception that the EPA is giving a free pass to the fracking industry….
Isotopic fingerprints don’t lie; people do by Don Williams, July 28, 2013, Susquehanna River Sentinel
This EPA/Dimock article from the Los Angeles Times is going to get a lot of traction over the next few days. This quote within the article should get even more:
“The EPA PowerPoint presentation identified five wells contaminated with methane whose chemical fingerprint, or isotopic composition, was the same as methane from the Marcellus shale formation at the center of Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom.”
Internal EPA report highlights disputes over fracking and well water, An EPA staff report suggests methane from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, contaminated wells near Dimock, Pa. by Neela Banerjee, July 27, 2013, LA Times
One year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency finished testing drinking water in Dimock, Pa., after years of complaints by residents who suspected that nearby natural gas production had fouled their wells. The EPA said that for nearly all the 64 homes whose wells it sampled, the water was safe to drink.
Yet as the regulator moved to close its investigation, the staff at the mid-Atlantic EPA office in Philadelphia, which had been sampling the Dimock water, argued for continuing the assessment. In an internal EPA PowerPoint presentation obtained by the Tribune/Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau, staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production.
The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that “methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.” The presentation also concluded that “methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work.”
In March 2012, the EPA closed an investigation of methane in drinking water in Parker County, Texas, although the geologist hired by the regulator confirmed that the methane was from gas production. In late June, the EPA dropped a study of possible contamination of drinking water in Pavillion, Wyo., despite its earlier findings of carcinogens, hydrocarbons and other contaminants in the water.
“We don’t know what’s going on, but certainly the fact that there’s been such a distinct withdrawal from three high-profile cases raises questions about whether the EPA is caving to pressure from industry or antagonistic members of Congress,” said Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. The EPA confirmed the authenticity of the presentation about the Dimock wells but said it was the work of one employee. “This presentation represents one [on-scene coordinator’s] thoughts regarding 12 samples and was not shared with the public because it was a preliminary evaluation that requires additional assessment in order to ascertain its quality and validity,” said EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson. “The sampling and an evaluation of the particular circumstances at each home did not indicate levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action,” Johnson said. “Throughout EPA’s work in Dimock, the agency used the best available scientific data to provide clarity to Dimock residents and address their concerns about the safety of their drinking water.”
At the same time, the energy industry and its congressional allies have hammered the EPA for undertaking the studies, which they say are a pretext for regulatory overreach. “They have attempted to link fracking to water contamination in at least three cases, only to be forced to retract their statements after further scrutiny proved them to be unfounded,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science Committee, said at a recent hearing. Robert B. Jackson, professor of environmental sciences at Duke University, who has researched methane contamination in the Dimock area and recently reviewed the presentation, said he was disappointed by the EPA’s decision. “What’s surprising is to see this data set and then to see EPA walk away from Dimock,” Jackson said. “The issue here is, why wasn’t EPA interested in following up on this to understand it better?”
The EPA staff presentation about Dimock was an interim analysis of water sampling data collected by Pennsylvania regulators and, later, by the EPA, from 2008 to June 2012. The presentation provides charts for nine of the 11 Dimock-area wells, tracking natural gas production work in the area and the concentration of methane and metals over a four- to five-year period, depending on the well. Some wells underwent a “short-term disruption,” or a rise in methane in the water six to eight months after nearby gas development activity. Over two or three years, the concentration of methane fell. Four other wells experienced long-term disruption to their water quality, according to the presentation. In those instances, methane levels did not fall over time but remained high after an initial increase or began to climb after a period of decline. The presence of metals such as manganese and arsenic also rose over time in some of those wells.
A study by Jackson and other Duke scientists published in June indicates that drinking water wells near natural gas production in northeastern Pennsylvania, including Dimock, are at greater risk of methane contamination than those farther away. Methane is the primary component in natural gas. In enclosed spaces, such as sheds and basements, it poses the risk of asphyxiation and explosion. There is little research into the long-term effects on human health from prolonged exposure to methane in drinking water.
Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., the company drilling in Dimock, asserts that the methane in the water is unrelated to oil and gas development. “Through our investigation, Cabot concluded that methane gas existed in groundwater and water wells in the Dimock and Springville townships long before Cabot began drilling in the area,” said Dan O. Dinges, Cabot’s chief executive, in a May 29 letter to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Although methane gas occurs naturally in the area’s aquifers, the Duke study showed that the chemical “fingerprint” of methane in shallow water wells near the gas sites was the same as the natural gas extracted from deep underground.
The EPA PowerPoint presentation identified five wells contaminated with methane whose chemical fingerprint, or isotopic composition, was the same as methane from the Marcellus shale formation at the center of Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom.
Fred Baldassare, a former official at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection who worked on the state’s Dimock studies, disputed the presentation’s assertion that some wells contained Marcellus methane. Now a consultant for industry and homeowners, Baldassare said there was not enough information about the composition of the methane in the wells to draw conclusions about the origin. “It’s dangerous and inappropriate to interpret this data in a vacuum,” he said. Jackson disagreed, arguing that the methane found does not naturally occur in drinking water. “The burden of proof is different here,” he said. “The question we’re asking is, ‘Was there enough evidence to warrant further study?’ The EPA scientist clearly thought so.” [Emphasis added]
Fracking Study Criticized, Republicans attack EPA study of gas-extraction technique and water safety by Puneet Kollipara, July 29, 2013, Chemical & Engineering News
Republicans in Congress want the Environmental Protection Agency to change its methods in a study of hydraulic fracturing’s effects on drinking water safety. The lawmakers say they want to ensure that the study, due next year, puts findings in better context by including a quantitative risk assessment. That was the Republican message to EPA last week during a hearing in the House of Representatives by the Science, Space & Technology Committee. But EPA intends instead to conduct its study using a “risk framework,” meaning it will qualitatively account for various hazards and exposure potential, according to David A. Dzombak, who chairs the EPA Science Advisory Board panel that will review the study. Republicans have been skeptical of EPA’s attempts to assess the risks of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, saying the efforts could result in needless additional regulation of a practice they view as safely regulated by states. Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the committee, warned that if EPA fails to make sufficient changes, “a legislative remedy may be warranted to address the study’s deficiencies.” But Democrats at the hearing defended EPA efforts. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the committee’s top Democrat, pointed out that determining fracking’s safety is “in the best interest of everyone, especially the fracking industry.” … EPA has withdrawn from several of its investigations of contamination near specific oil and gas production sites, however. Republicans said those withdrawals highlight flaws in those studies and raise doubts about the congressionally mandated drinking water study’s credibility. EPA defends its science, saying it has rigorous procedures and protocols to ensure scientific integrity and quality. Fred Hauchman, a top official at EPA’s Office of Research & Development, testified that the scientific literature doesn’t yet provide enough data for a quantitative risk assessment.
[Refer also to:
The Big Squeeze: North American Regulator and Protective Agency Close Controversial Groundwater Contamination Cases
The Science is Deafening
Industry’s Contamination Everywhere
Regulator and Protective Agencies Run for Cover
June 13 EES Gas Migration paper submitted to UK Department of Enterprise, Trade & Investment, Oil and Gas Licensing
June 14 ERCB closes the Campbell’s (Alberta ranchers) drinking water contamination investigation after 8 years of investigation*
June 15 Encana misses their promised deadline to file Statement of Defence on the Ernst vs Encana case after being served April 2011
June 16 BC Tap Water Alliance, FrackingCanada and Ami(s) du Richelieu broadcast the EES Gas Migration paper globally
June 17 EES Gas Migration paper submitted to Council of Canadian Academies expert panel reviewing frac’ing; report due soon
June 18 US EPA announces 2 year delay of comprehensive frac study
June 20 US EPA pulls out of Pavillion water contamination investigation after 4 years; Encana takes over with $1.5 million donation
June 24 Duke Study #2 on drilling and frac’ing causing methane contamination of groundwater published online, affirms Study #1
Duke Study #1 reported 17x more methane in groundwater near drilled and frac’d wells, published online May 9, 2011.
EES = Ernst Environmental Services
*On November 16, 2006, the regulator wrote that the Campbell’s well water was the “only affected water in Alberta.” ]