A review by an EPA advisory board says that a draft report on hydraulic fracturing did not support the conclusion that shale gas fracking hasn’t caused significant damage to the nation’s water supplies.
… According to the peer-reviewed document by the 30-member Science Advisory Board, the EPA’s primary conclusion to its June draft study — that fracking has not caused “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States” — isn’t supported by the cited data, which has gaps and deficiencies.
“Of particular concern is the statement of no widespread, systemic impacts on drinking-water resources,” the October advisory board report says. “Neither the system of interest nor the definitions of widespread, systemic or impact are clear — and it is not clear how this statement reflects the uncertainties and data limitations described in the Report’s chapters.” The advisory committee suggested revisions to make the conclusion “more precise and specific,” and to “clearly draw” from the report.
… The EPA’s study report does, for the first time, acknowledge that fracking has contaminated water supplies in a number of locations across the U.S., including Pennsylvania. But the Science Advisory Board review document says the study did not pay enough attention to fracking’s impacts on local water supplies, and notes that the agency did not do planned prospective studies of shale gas drilling sites to compare pre-drilling and post-drilling water supplies. It also says the agency failed to include enough information about water contamination investigations at three sites, in Dimock, in northeastern Pennsylvania; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyo.
… It raises the point that well construction is critical because of the nature of fluids coming out of wells: “While chemicals used in [hydraulic fracturing] may have various toxicities in varying concentrations, and, even newer, greener mixes may be safer, oil field fluids are still nothing you’d want to drink. The fluids coming out of the well (hydrocarbons and produced water) can be far more toxic than those being used for fracturing purposes,” the report notes.
When the EPA report was released in June, the shale gas drilling industry hailed it as proof that fracking was not harming water supplies and state regulations were effective.
Asked to respond to questions raised by the advisory board review, the American Petroleum Institute, the nation’s largest oil and gas industry trade organization, referred to comments it submitted to the Science Advisory Board in August, that characterized EPA’s conclusion of no systemic impact from fracking as “sound.” Those comments also criticized the agency for its methodology and findings, including the need for more study.
Travis Windle, a Marcellus Shale Coalition spokesman, issued a statement supportive of the EPA’s “fact-based hydraulic fracturing findings,” and questioning whether the advisory board’s review identified any substantial differences.
Work on the advisory board’s peer review of the EPA study report will continue at a public meeting scheduled for Dec. 3, in Washington, D.C.
The board’s draft review should be finished in January, Mr. Dzombak said, with a final report due in late spring. The EPA is not obligated to follow the Science Advisory Board’s recommendations, he said. [Emphasis added]
Put another way, there are about 700 pages (24,000 lines) presenting the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water resources and human health but only 2 lines concluding that it is not a universal problem. Talk about a surprise ending!
— Dr. Scott Blair
ABSOLUTE MUST WATCH: Testimony Before EPA: Ray Kemble, Bryce Payne, Dr. Zacariah Hildenbrand, Hope Forpeace, Steve Lipsky in front of the EPA Science Advisory Board Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel. This is important information that was not included in the EPA fracking study released in June 2015 by Hope Forpeace, October 29, 2015
Zachariah Hildebrand: My team has done extensive research in the Eagle Ford Shale showing that flaring stations for example, are contributing to benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes isomers into the air, which are being concentrated into soils. However, I’m going to focus primarily on our latest groundwater research throughout shale formations in Texas.
[Alberta Environment and the AER did not test for arsenic, mercury, radium, cesium in Rosebud citizen water wells even though the regulators knew in 2006 that Encana and regulator tests showed the chromium in Ernst’s water increased by a factor of 45 after Encana frac’d into the same vertical zones where Ernst got her drinking water from.]
Zachariah Hildebrand: What we found, was quite shocking actually.
Hope Forpeace: ….what is widespread and systemic is the regulatory capture and the failure of our regulatory agencies to do their jobs. And the reason is that industry’s giving you a lot of blow back, and we see that and appreciate that. It’s very difficult to stand up to the gas and oil industry, they’re very very powerful. That is why these investigations have ended in Parker County, Pavillion and Dimock.
It’s a difficult thing to watch, as an Amercian – this kind of cover-up, this level of cover-up. …. the cover-up is allowing absolutely terrible science to inform us.
…. [The Texas Railroad Commission] had photographs of [Steve Lipsky’s] water on fire, they ignored them. [Like “No Duty of Care,” legally immune, constitution-violating AER, Alberta Environment and Alberta government ignored photographs of Ernst’s explosively contaminated drinking water and ignored the 2004 documented proof of Encana illegally fracturing her community’s drinking water aquifers and ignored the 2006 isotopic fingerprinting analysis by Dr. Karlis Muehlenbachs (obtained via FOIP by Ernst in 2008, after spending masses of her personal money and time fighting Alberta Environment and requesting and working through multiple reviews by Alberta’s Information Commissioner’s Office getting the analysis) that shows ethane, propane and butane in citizen water wells coming from Encana’s perf and frac depths]
…It’s our nations water at stake, and people’s lives are being ruined. And these people are at the edge of their ability to deal with this, as you would be. [Emphasis added]
What just quietly happened at the Science Advisory Board review of EPA’s fracking study? by John Noel, October 30, 2015
Due to the way EPA’s press release and Executive Summary were worded these were the headlines when the Assessment was released in June:
“EPA Fracking Study: Drilling Wins” — Forbes
“Fracking Doesn’t Pollute Drinking Water, EPA says” — Newsweek
“EPA: Fracking doesn’t harm drinking water” — Washington Times
“EPA review clears fracking” — The Dominion Post
“The EPA Fracking Miracle” — Wall Street Journal
In addition to the media spin, policymakers and politicians continue to take one or two sentences from the Executive Summary or press release and use it to negate the very real concerns about oil and gas development — that needs to stop.
Thankfully, the Panel of experts agreed almost unanimously that these conclusions are not supported by the underlying data in the report.
The primary reviewers registered their concerns in writing:
“EPA should state what is specifically meant by “widespread, systemic”, and to what extent the methodology used in the assessment was capable of detection of such impacts had they occurred.” — Dr. Joseph DeGeorge
“I do not think that the document’s authors have gone far enough to emphasize how preliminary these key conclusions are and how limited the factual bases are for their judgments.” — Dr. James Bruckner
“However, I was looking for additional synthesis to support EPA’s major finding: “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” EPA does qualify this statement in the next paragraph by stating that this finding could reflect a rarity of effects or be due to a number of limiting factors.” — Dr. Abby Li
“The report reads: “The number of cases is small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells.” The descriptor “small” is vague (and subjective). Can this be quantified (based on the available data) or a more precise description provided?” — Dr. James Saiers
… If the expert Panel has these serious concerns with top line conclusions in the Executive Summary, imagine the general public trying to discern exactly what EPA is saying and what they should and should not be worrying about.
The summary statements that survive at the end of the review process must not be able to mislead the public — either by journalists working on a deadline or by stakeholders set to gain by downplaying the real impacts described in the body of the report.
Will EPA include the Panel’s recommendations in the final Assessment? [Better question might be: Will the oil and gas industry let the EPA include the panel’s recommendations?] [Emphasis added]
11/2/15 Preliminary Individual Comments from Members of Science Advisory Board Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel on EPA’s draft report, Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources (External Review Draft, EPA/600/R-15/047, June 2015). These comments do not represent SAB consensus comments nor EPA Policy.
Page 10, Comments from Dr. E. Scott Bair
(1). Chapter 3 deals with the proximity of hydraulically fractured wells to drinking-water
supplies, where distance serves as a surrogate for vulnerability. Closer is more vulnerable,
further is less.
(2). Although aquifers are presented on the first page of Chapter 3 as part of the drinking-water resources of the United States, they are only superficially mentioned in the body of the chapter. More information about the ground-water resources in hydraulically fractured areas needs to be added. For example, typical depths to aquifers, confined or unconfined aquifers, aquifer thicknesses, and aquifer continuity. All of this information is available from the USGS.
(3). More information needs to be presented about the vertical distance between surface-water bodies and the target zones being fractured. Information also should be presented about the depths most aquifers compared to the depths of most hydraulically fractured wells. It is misleading to state, as it does in Text Box 3-1, that “An estimated 6,800 public water supplies were located between 1 mile of a hydraulically fractured oil and gas well between 2000 to 2013. These PWS sources supplied water 3,924 public water systems and served more than 8.6 million people…” These statistics only tell one part of the story – lateral proximity. To be complete, this story has to also include depths to the target zones or depths of the wells. It is a three-dimensional issue that in the report is presented solely in two dimensions, which misrepresents the actual field situations.
(4). Don’t be afraid to mention the rocks. The geologic aspects of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle are not presented in sufficient detail, yet it is the rocks lying between the fracked zone and shallow aquifers/surface-water supplies that provide much of the protection to our drinking water supplies.
(2). Page 3-1, lines 25-26: Springs are commonly used for drinking water supplies that can range from a single household or an entire town. Spring water resources should be included in this analysis. Springs are the surface manifestation of the water table and usually are counted separately. [The AER does not require baseline testing of springs before industry frac’s any formation in fresh water zones across the province.]
There is nothing in this section pertaining to aquifers and vertical distances across rock layers. …
(6). Page 3-6, line 9: Springs are usually considered the outflowing of ground-water resources.
(8). Page 3-11, Conclusion: A statement should be added to the effect that, “Hydraulically
fractured wells usually are constructed at depths of approximately 3,000 to 10,000 feet,
[In Alberta, Encana frac’d at about 300 feet! Encana frac’d so shallow, their data on some frac’d gas wells at Rosebud is filed on the groundwater centre database! No wonder the Alberta government removed the historic water well data that says “Gas Present: No” and replaced them with altered records that are now blank.]
although some older wells are shallower. This is done, in part, to create vertical zone of protection between the hydraulically fractured zone and nearby surface-water supplies. This zone also provides protection between the hydraulically fractured zone and shallow, fresh-water supplies in aquifers. The average depth of a fracked well should be restated herein.
Ground water resources are skimmed over at best or often don’t fit into the outlined sections. …
The third dimension, depth, and the rocks that occur between the fracked zone and the wellhead or surface water supplies are not adequately accounted for.
(10). Text Box 3-1, bottom: None of these bullets contains any information about the depth
differences between the fracked zones and surface water resources. I suspect that many of the private systems described in the last bullet are ground-water supplies. If this is so, it is misleading to solely present the lateral distance between the wellhead and these private systems. The vertical distance is equally important, if not more important.
[Like this important?
March 2004: Encana’s illegal frac’s vertically into the same drinking water zones that citizens get their drinking water from in Rosebud’s fresh water aquifers – drawn by Encana’s hired hydrogeological consultants for all to understand, even regulator staff.
FOIP documents obtained by Ernst years and thousands of dollars later, show that Alberta politicians, the Alberta Research Council, the AER and Alberta Environment knew about Encana’s illegal acts shortly thereafter. The regulators fraudulently covered-up for Encana and instead of judging and punishing the guilty frac’er with the obvious evidence, the AER judged Ernst a criminal with no evidence and punished her by refusing energy regulation and taking away her constitutional right to freedom of expression.
Did industry order the EPA to avoid investigating vertical distances, or refuse to hand over the relevant data?]
Petroleum (oil/condensate) contain many hundreds of individual compounds that could be included in the dissolved phase as trace components but are generally just classified as BTEX and total petroleum hydrocarbons. Composition data were limited.
Most of the available data on produced water content were for shale formations and CBM basins, while little data were available for sandstone formations. Additionally, the majority of data were for inorganics, and little data were available for organics. Many more organic chemicals have been reported to have been used in hydraulic fracturing fluid than have been identified in produced water. The difference may be due to analytical limitations, limited study scopes, and undocumented subsurface reactions.
Comments from Dr. Elaine M. Faustman, Page 138:
… Overall the document provides an extraordinarily clear and detailed assessment of the processes involved in Hydraulic fracturing, where these activities take place and how the process may differ by location. It provides a very clear inside view of how these activities impact the amount and source of water and how hydraulic fracturing activities link with the overall cycle of water use. In this context the document is excellent and provides an extraordinary resource.
However it is the opinion of this reviewer that the document [does] not adequately address the factors affecting the frequency or severity of any potential health impacts. Thus the full purpose of report was not met by specific chapters of this document. In particular this purpose was not met in Chapter 9 “Identification and Hazard Evaluation of Chemicals across the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle”.
This is reflected in multiple ways that I will delineate below but does include:
1. Disconnect from what the public comments are requesting for impact information
2. Evaluate appropriate tools for the majority of the data. Provide additional assessment methods that use tools that evaluate more of the available data rather than focus on data that fits into the specific Decision tool chosen for this analysis. Focus on other decision models that can use the data that was available and include these assessments as well.
3. Inconsistent application and inclusion of peered and non-peered review data between chapters
[At least the EPA included the peer-reviewed, published data proving Encana’s fracing contaminated water wells at Rosebud! That’s one hell of a lot better than anything done yet, by Canadian federal or provincial regulators,.]
Specifc Charge Questions:
2. The assessment used available information and data to identify chemicals used in
hydraulic fracturing fluids and/or present in flow back and produced waters. Known
physicochemical and toxicological properties of those chemicals were compiled and
summarized. This is addressed in Chapter 9.
a. Does the assessment present a clear and accurate characterization of the available
chemical and toxicological information concerning chemicals used in hydraulic
b. Does the assessment clearly identify and describe the constituents of concern that
potentially impact drinking water resources?
c. Are the major findings fully supported by the information and data presented in
the assessment? Are there other major findings that have not been brought
forward? Are the factors affecting the frequency or severity of any impacts
described to the extent possible and fully supported?
d. Are the uncertainties, assumptions, and limitations concerning chemical and
toxicological properties fully and clearly described?
e. What additional information, background, or context should be added, or research
gaps should be assessed, to better characterize chemical and toxicological
information in this assessment? Are there relevant literature or data sources that
should be added in this section of the report?
There are many major findings that have not been adequately brought forward. This reviewer was not in agreement with how this “Identification and Hazard Evaluation of Chemicals across the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle was presented and analyzed. Note that this reviewer combined responses across some of the charge question subsets.
In a nutshell, five harmed but unsilenced residents of PA, WY, and TX showed up at last week’s EPA fracking study review panel, and they totally flipped the script. Their testimonies struck a chord with the panel, which recommended that the EPA ‹ at the very least ‹ explicitly acknowledge and summarize the events in Dimock, Pavillion and Parker County. And their testimonies resonated with the panelists’ take on the Administration’s
topline finding that the “assessment shows no widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.” The panel thought the emphasis should be on the pervasive uncertainties and data limitations, and that local and severe impacts needed to be acknowledged. [Emphasis added]
How the Wheels Fell off the EPA’s Fracking Study, Five harmed but unsilenced residents of Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Texas showed up at last week’s EPA fracking study review panel, and they completely flipped the script by Hugh MacMillan, November 2, 2015, food & water watch
In June, the Obama Administration released the Environmental Protection Agency’s study on fracking and its impact on drinking water. After more than five years of study, the agency released it to the public under this misleading banner:
“Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). [Press release]. “EPA Releases Draft Assessment on the Potential Impacts to Drinking Water Resources from Hydraulic Fracturing Activities.” June 4, 2015.)
The media ran with the lede. Having cut down the concerns about drinking water resources as “not widespread,” the fracking industry, its financiers and a legion of lobbyists thought they had closed the deal.
They thought the path was paved for widespread, systematic fracking to maximize the amounts of oil and gas that can be brought to the surface to be burned. But last week, over three marathon days of public testimony on and peer-review of the study, the wheels fell off.
The EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board review panel — a group of scientists, engineers and industry representatives — converged on the landmark retro-chic Washington Plaza Hotel for the meetings. On short notice, and to the surprise of EPA and the assembled panel, residents of Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Texas who have refused to be silenced by the industry also showed up, putting names and faces to the thousands of people harmed by fracking.
One by one, Ray Kemble and Craig Stevens from Dimock, Pennsylvania, Ron Gulla from Hickory, Pennsylvania, John Fenton from Pavillion, Wyoming and Steve Lipsky from Parker County, Texas told their stories. Each was forced to condense five to ten years of anguish over the industry’s rapaciousness and over their government’s neglect into just five minutes.
The EPA had long abandoned its investigations in Dimock, Pavillion and Parker County, Texas, leaving the communities with contaminated water. And inexplicably, the EPA had excluded their “high-profile” cases of contamination from the assessment. One by one they demanded that the EPA include the truth about what happened in their communities in the assessment.
Their testimonies struck a chord with the panelists. And this chord resonated with the absurdity of the Administration’s topline claim that the impacts are not “widespread, systemic.”
One after another, the scientists, engineers and even some of the industry representatives took issue with the Obama EPA’s finding. The panelists saw that “widespread, systemic” was a meaningless phrase. They emphasized the “local” and “severe” impacts that were outlined in the study and that were recounted in the public testimonies by Kemble, Stevens, Gulla, Fenton and Lipsky. And one after another, the panelists noted how the study was plagued at every turn by “uncertainties and data limitations.”
In a cathartic moment, toward the end of the second day, one of the panelists offered up a rewrite of the study’s major findings that captured all of these sentiments, and the panelists erupted in applause. It is safe to say the Obama Administration was not expecting rapturous applause from the panel in support of turning the top line finding on its head.
The panelists are also recommending that, at the very least, the EPA provide explicit summaries of what happened in Dimock, Pavillion, and Parker County. That is a far cry from re-opening the investigations, as we and our allies have urged the agency to do. We will continue to push the agency to stop avoiding these cases of contamination, and for Administrator McCarthy to meet with those affected.
Kemble, Stevens, Gulla, Fenton and Lipsky went home with their pride, knowing they struck a chord and that they utterly changed the tenor of the peer-review process last week and exposed the assessment as an embarrassment, but that won’t give them back the years they’ve lost fighting the industry and losing faith in their government. [Emphasis added]
To conduct a peer review of the EPA draft report, Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources (External Review Draft, EPA/600/R-15/047, June 2015)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel
CHAIR Dr. David A. Dzombak, Hamerschlag University Professor of Environmental Engineering and Head of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
Dr. Stephen W. Almond, Director of Research & Development, Fritz Industries, Inc, Houston, TX
Dr. E. Scott Bair, Emeritus Professor, School of Earth Sciences, Ohio State University,
Dr. Peter Bloomfield, Professor, Statistics Department, North Carolina State University,
Dr. Steven R. Bohlen, State Oil and Gas Supervisor, and Head of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), State of California Department of Conservation, Sacramento, CA
Dr. Elizabeth W. Boyer, Associate Professor, Department of Ecosystem Science &
Management, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Dr. Susan L. Brantley, Distinguished Professor of Geosciences and Director, Earth and
Environmental Systems Institute, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Dr. James V. Bruckner, Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Department of
Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Dr. Thomas L. Davis, Professor, Department of Geophysics, Colorado School of Mines,
Dr. Joseph J. DeGeorge, Global Head of Safety Assessment and Laboratory Animal Resources, Merck Research Laboratories, Lansdale, PA
Dr. Joel Ducoste, Professor, Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering Department, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Dr. Shari Dunn-Norman, Professor, Geosciences and Geological and Petroleum Engineering Department, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, MO
Dr. Katherine Bennett Ensor, Professor and Chair, Department of Statistics, Rice University, Houston, TX
Dr. Elaine M. Faustman, Professor, Department of Environmental Health, and Director,
Institute for Risk Analysis and Risk Communication, School of Public Health, University of
Washington, Seattle, WA
Mr. John V. Fontana, Professional Geologist and President, Vista GeoScience LLC, Golden,
Dr. Daniel J. Goode, Research Hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey, Pennsylvania Water
Science Center, Exton, PA
Dr. Bruce D. Honeyman, Associate Vice President for Research and Emeritus Professor of
Environmental Science and Engineering, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO
Mr. Walter R. Hufford, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs, Talisman Energy
USA Inc. – REPSOL, Warrendale, PA
Dr. Richard F. Jack, Director, Vertical Marketing for Environmental and Industrial Markets, Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., San Jose, CA
Dr. Dawn S. Kaback, Principal Geochemist, Amec Foster Wheeler, Denver, CO
Dr. Abby A. Li, Senior Managing Scientist, Exponent Health Sciences, Exponent, Inc., San
Mr. Dean N. Malouta, White Mountain Energy Consulting, LLC, Houston, TX
Dr. Cass T. Miller, Daniel A. Okun Distinguished Professor of Environmental Engineering,
Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
Dr. Laura J. Pyrak-Nolte, Professor, Department of Physics, College of Science, Purdue
University, West Lafayette, IN
Dr. Stephen Randtke, Professor, Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural
Engineering, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
SAB Panel Weighs Recommendation For EPA To Revise Draft Fracking Study by Mike Soraghan, November 2, 2015, E & E News
A Science Advisory Board (SAB) panel reviewing EPA’s draft analysis of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water is weighing whether to recommend that the agency revise its draft conclusion that the study found no evidence of “widespread,
systemic impacts” on drinking water.
Panel members during an Oct. 28-30 meeting held in Washington, D.C., raised concerns over the draft finding, suggesting the agency did not clearly define what would constitute “widespread” and “systemic” impacts and that a paucity of data hindered EPA’s ability to draw such a conclusion.
James Bruckner, of the University of Georgia’s pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences department, said Oct. 29 that the draft language, as written, makes “too strong a statement” given “fragmented and insufficient information.”
And Thomas Davis, of the Colorado School of Mines’ geophysics department, added that EPA should have explained what findings would have constituted “widespread, systemic impacts,” what methodology the agency would have used to make those determinations, and what evidence would have allowed such a finding. “Why the disconnect is so apparent is because we don’t know exactly what is meant” by widespread or systemic impacts, Davis said.
Additionally, the SAB panel appears poised to make a number of recommendations for addressing what members flag as possible holes in the draft report, including greater examination of how seismic impacts could affect drinking water resources, best practices that could mitigate spill and other risks [How? “Best practices” are voluntary and ignored. by frac’ers and regulators alike. “Best practices” in the unconventional oil and gas industry are more accurately called “Fraud Practices.”], modeling scenarios that better flush out potential exposure risks, and risks from naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).
The panelists also discussed a recommendation that EPA include more focus in its draft report on three high-profile groundwater investigations the agency conducted in Parker County, TX; Dimock Township, PA; and Pavillion, WY that were later dropped without finalizing the studies.
“I really think we ought to go with our conscience here and say we ought to include this,” Dean Malouta, of White Mountain Energy Consulting, said Oct. 30, adding that the studies are “germane” to circumstances that can go wrong at fracking sites. [Go wrong? Or normal? How many years of suffering and abuse are to be endured by the many families with contaminated water while the regulators and companies engage in fraud to cover-up their cover-ups?]
Susan Brantley, of Pennsylvania State University’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, added that she supported a recommendation that EPA should include the three studies, “period,” instead of recommending that the agency include the studies or provide justification for omitting them, as discussed earlier. Brantley said, “The part that’s political, I think, is why they weren’t included,” and that rationale is not necessary to include in the draft study.
Environmentalists and property owners near hydraulic fracturing wells during the public comments portion of the meetings also renewed their calls for EPA to re-open its investigation into fracking’s drinking water impacts, saying the draft report is deeply flawed. “The study was limited in scope, it was poorly designed and relied on industry data,” Food & Water Watch (FWW) Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said at an Oct. 28 press conference. She added that the study “has been used to justify the ongoing narrative about the safety of fracking” and that the report still contains “many examples of fracking groundwater contamination” such as the Texas, Wyoming and Pennsylvania examples.
And panelists raised concerns over the lack of “prospective studies” in the draft study, which EPA planned to include at drill sites that were just being developed. The studies would have allowed researchers to track changes in the water quality near the site as drilling progressed and thus accumulate valuable “baseline” data, but those were hindered by setbacks, including difficulties identifying appropriate sites and a failure to reach legal agreements with operators.
But Jeffrey Frithsen, of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment within its research office, said Oct. 28 that EPA currently has no plans to continue working toward prospective studies, saying, “The resources are such that we don’t think even if the partner or sites came to pass,” the agency would be able to conduct them.
In response, Brantley noted that the prospective studies “would have been helpful in addressing some of the uncertainty, perhaps,” and suggested that EPA should clarify in the final report whether it believed the prospective studies to be essential to the study, and if not, to clarify its rationale.
And Daniel Goode, a hydrologist with U.S. Geological Survey, asked whether all of the money allocated for the study in fiscal year 2016 has already been spent to conduct the study, to which Frithsen said it was unclear, but that the agency would welcome any recommendations on prioritizing further research to address some of the uncertainties.
… The panel is charged with reviewing the draft study and coming up with consensus advice in response to the set of eight charge questions and then draft a report summarizing its recommendations for the agency. The chartered SAB will then review the panel’s draft advice before issuing a final report, and the agency anticipates a final report some time in 2016.
During the three-day SAB meeting, panelists discussed possible ways EPA should consider revising its draft conclusion on impacts, with members generally agreeing that both limited data and a lack of clarity on the meaning of the phrase, “widespread, systemic impacts” necessitated revisions. For example, Thomas Young, of University of California, noted Oct. 29, “I don’t think there is a lot of evidence to refute [EPA’s conclusion] it’s more that this unease that it sweeps under the rug all the things we don’t know about.”
And Goode said that while he is likely to agree that EPA’s statement may be true, “to me it is incomplete in the way it’s presented,” and that EPA should find a way to qualify it to reflect that although hampered by data constraints [and industry deliberately sabotaging the study?], there have been specific impacts in conditions on drinking water.
And Joseph DeGeorge, of Merck Research Laboratories, said that EPA could highlight some of the severe local impacts that are site-specific but still documented in the draft report, such as extreme water withdrawals or wellhead incidents.
Slide from Ernst presentations
The panel’s chair, David Dzombak of Carnegie Mellon University, discussed during the Oct. 30 wrap up drafting language to reflect that “it is not clear how” the statement reflects the myriad uncertainties in both data limits and definitional questions.
Panelists also noted EPA’s lack of attention to seismic impacts related to underground injection wells used to dispose of fracking wastewater, with Stephen Randtke, of University of Kansas, suggesting Oct. 28 it may be of concern for drinking water resources if seismic concerns limit disposal options, saying there may be less fracking activity as a result. [And what about including evidence of frac’ing directly causing earthquakes felt at the surface many kilometers from quake source and frac locations and causing damages much more extreme than any caused by trucks driving by? Who is studying the damages from quakes caused to drinking water aquifers and the all important caprock by fracing or waste water injection or water/gas injection for enhanced oil recovery or captured carbon sequestration?]
Henry Neumann, who says a nearby fracking operation shattered his patio window, is upset by the enterprise on his acreage near Devon on Thursday Sept. 17, 2015. JOHN LUCAS / EDMONTON JOURNAL
And some panel members criticized the lack of specificity in the draft report. For example, on Oct. 28, Shari Dunn-Norman, of Missouri University of Science of Technology, noted that some parts of EPA’s draft section on chemical fate and transport are “very speculative because they just don’t have the data.”
And Bruce Honeyman, of the Colorado School of Mines, noted that EPA presents “no new information on chemical fate and transport,” echoing another panel member in saying it is “generously called what you would find in an undergraduate textbook.” The fate and transport information was severely hindered, for example, by a lack of chemical analytics, lack of safety data for many additives to fracking fluid, and no information of geologic formations, Honeyman said. … [Emphasis added]
Snap from Ernst vs Encana lawsuit page
Impacted Landowners Demand EPA Revise Flawed Fracking Study by Wenonah Hauter October 30, 2015, ecowatch
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board met this week to review the agency’s draft assessment of the impact of fracking on drinking water resources, but the largely academic exercise got a dose of reality from residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania; Pavillion, Wyoming; and Parker County, Texas who have fought for years to get U.S. EPA to act.
Inexplicably, their cases of contamination were excluded in the thousands of pages that make up the EPA’s assessment. Given only five minutes each, the residents demanded that the EPA stop ignoring their cases.
Ray Kemble, an affected landowner and former gas industry worker, testified, “In 2008, gas drilling caused my water to become poisoned. The Pennsylvania DEP and the EPA confirmed this contamination, but abandoned us in 2012 and did not even include us in their long-term study. I am here today to demand that EPA recognize us, include our case in this study, and reopen the investigation.”
John Fenton, a rancher and affected landowner in Pavillion also spoke out. “When EPA launched its national study of fracking’s drinking water impacts, we thought they’d look first here in Pavillion where they’d already found pollution. But instead they ignored us without explanation. Science means taking the facts as they are. But EPA seems to be intent on finding the facts to support the conclusion they’ve already reached—‘fracking is safe.’”
Steve Lipsky, an affected homeowner in Weatherford, Texas added that “EPA omitted my case from their national drinking water study,” and then asked, “Is that science? Whose side is EPA on?”
“We have tried for years now to get the EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to meet with impacted residents across the country to hear their stories and to come up with ways that the agency can help those being harmed,” said Craig Stevens, 6th generation landowner and member of Pennsylvania Patriots from the Marcellus Shale. “This has still not happened and we deserve better.”
“While the EPA spent years conducting this study only to claim in their press releases that water contamination from fracking ‘is not widespread or systemic,’ I have been receiving calls on a regular basis from people across the state of Pennsylvania whose water and air has been polluted by this industry and who are paying the price with their health,” said Ron Gulla, an impacted resident from Hickory, Pennsylvania. “I have been trying to help people who are being poisoned by this industry for years, while our federal agencies who are tasked with protecting these people has failed them.”
It was vital that the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board hear these voices from the front lines, from people who have to deal with their water being poisoned. Not only has the agency been unresponsive, and failed to uphold its own basic mission to protect human health and the environment, the EPA—or perhaps more accurately the Obama Administration—misrepresented its own study when it claimed that “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources.”
Some of the Scientific Advisory Board members are listening, with one member describing the EPA’s topline finding as “out of left field” and a “non sequitur relative to the body of the report.” But at the same time, the oil and gas industry is well represented on the board—several repeatedly used “we” and “industry” interchangeably as they chimed in in defense of fracking.
The EPA has been unresponsive and is failing to uphold its own basic mission to protect human health and the environment. It’s time for the agency to finally step up and serve the people, not the oil and gas industry. They could start by having a face-to-face with Administrator Gina McCarthy and affected individuals, rather than pretending they don’t exist. And the Obama administration must stop greenwashing fracking and acknowledge that it’s a dirty, polluting source of energy that harms our water, our climate, and our communities.
[Meanwhile, back in Canada: No regulator agency is studying the many groundwater and drinking water contamination cases in frac experiment zones spread across the country, not even where clear evidence of law violations and contamination sits loudly in the hands of the regulators]
Here’s a video of the testimony:
Testimony of Hugh MacMillan, Ph.D. October 28, 2015
EPA Scientific Advisory Board Public Meeting, Hydraulic Fracturing Assessment
I am pleased to be here to observe this process.
My name is Hugh MacMillan. I am an applied mathematician and computational scientist, well versed in the methods employed to model the simplistic contamination scenarios considered in the assessment.
After serving as a AAAS Congressional Fellow in the U.S. Senate, I joined Food & Water Watch as a Senior Researcher.
I am concerned about the integrity of this process, I believe that you, as scientific advisors, should be too. As you must be aware, current U.S. energy policy equates widespread fracking with energy security. This is in lock step with the interests of both the oil and gas industry and the investment banks that own the fracking industry’s debt.
There is no doubt that this alignment of interests has shaped the assessment
Certainly it is telling that the EPA aborted its investigations in Dimock, Pavillion and Parker County, that it excluded these cases of contamination from the assessment, and that it refers to the impacts people have suffered as “vulnerabilities” — as if the harms are just hypothetical, and not lived every day by thousands of Americans.
To those who have been harmed, this is insulting. The assessment must include these cases of contamination.
The EPA’s reliance on the voluntary cooperation of industry for access to data and wells sites is likewise telling, and it has likewise shaped the science in the assessment.
The fact that untold numbers of cases are hidden in sealed court settlements has further shaped the assessment.
The legal scholars Thomas McGarity and Wendy Wagner, in their 2008 book Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research, wrote the following:
“The most important thing upper-level policy-makers can do to prevent public misunderstanding of their attempts to incorporate scientific advice into the decision-making process is to be candid about the extent to which their final decisions rest on science and the extent to which policy considerations fill the gaps left by scientific uncertainties.”i
By this measure, the final draft assessment does the public a disservice. It is not candid. The phrase “widespread, systemic impacts” has proven contentious precisely for this reason. It was deployed to paper over the “gaps left by the scientific uncertainties,” many of which are spelled out clearly in the body of the assessment.
In effect, the phrase is employed as a multi-dimensional threshold, beyond which concern would be triggered — and yet the phrase is meaningless. It is only defined implicitly as being above and beyond existing levels of damage.
The result of this artifice is that oil and gas corporations and big banks succeed in projecting their vision for the future: decades more drilling and fracking to extract as much unconventional oil and gas as possible.
Not only will this mean more spills and leaky wells that compromise drinking water resources, and more air pollution for people living in communities targeted with fracking. It also means more climate pollution that drives global warming, bringing its own set of challenges to the provision of clean drinking water.
We argue that building sustainable energy systems in a way that creates, rather than destroys, wealth in communities, protects public health, meets energy needs affordably, and addresses climate change, requires that we instead keep as much unconventional oil and gas as possible underground instead.
i. Thomas McGarity and Wendy Wagner. 2008. “Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research.” Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass. at 269.
Comments following EPA SAB HF study panel discussion by Hugh MacMillan, Ph.D., October 30, 2015
First, I’m pleased, and frankly I suspect that core members of the EPA team are pleased, that what was presented as a topline finding of the assessment has been identified as inconsistent with the actual assessment.
It will be interesting to see whether the administration comes clean on this point.
Second, in my written comments submitted in August, I researched the EPA’s past use of “widespread”… you may find the results of interest.
I think it’s worth noting that from the study to the press release, the statement evolved from “we did not find evidence of widespread, systemic impacts” to “assessment shows no widespread, systemic impacts.”
Third, while the agency’s rationale for including high profile case studies would be awkward… While that is amusing to those unaffected, I don’t believe it is a reason to not present the agency’s rationale.
Fourth, re prospective studies…I would argue that, given the relatively low frequency of well integrity failures, for example, a handful of prospective studies under the brightlights and supervision of the EPA may not be representative.
Lastly, I would just like to point you to my written comments about the computational complexity of modeling, and when the “curse of dimensionality” will come into play.
Page 6-41 presents the sparse sampling of parameter space of a simplistic scenario, and it required 576 simulations. The scenario does not approach being able to approximate potential flows of contaminants, over long periods of time, on the spatial scale of widespread drilling and fracking in a region.
It is questionable whether quantifying uncertainty for such simulations on a regional scale — which would require sparse sampling of much more vast parameter spaces — will be tractable even on the most advanced DOE supercomputer. [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to:
Alberta Energy Regulator’s outside lead counsel in Ernst vs AER (Supreme Court of Canada hearing on January 12, 2015):
2014: EPA Defends Three Abandoned Fracking Investigations: Cabot Oil & Gas at Dimock, Range Resources at Parker Co, Encana at Pavillion; EPA Says it Will Work With States to Prevent Pollution [Promising the impossible?]
DeSmogBlog has obtained a copy of an Obama Administration Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fracking groundwater contamination PowerPoint presentation describing a then-forthcoming study’s findings in Dimock, Pennsylvania.
The PowerPoint presentation reveals a clear link between hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas in Dimock and groundwater contamination, but was censored by the Obama Administration. Instead, the EPA issued an official desk statement in July 2012 – in the thick of election year – saying the water in Dimock was safe for consumption. [In 2008, the Alberta government wrote the Campbells, Zimmermans, Signers, Lauridsens and Ernst saying their frac’d and dangerously contaminated drinking water was safe too]
Titled “Isotech-Stable Isotype Analysis: Determinining the Origin of Methane and Its Effets on the Aquifer,” the PowerPoint presentation concludes that in Cabot Oil and Gas’ Dimock Gesford 2 well, “Drilling creates pathways, either temporary or permanent, that allows gas to migrate to the shallow aquifer near [the] surface…In some cases, these gases disrupt groundwater quality.” Other charts depict Cabot’s Gesford 3 and 9 wells as doing much of the same, allowing methane to migrate up to aquifers to unprecedented levels – not coincidentally – coinciding with the wells being fracked. The PowerPoint’s conclusions are damning. …
“Methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking and other gas well work…Methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.” Despite the findings, the official EPA desk statement concluded any groundwater contamination in Dimock was “naturally occurring.” …
Two EPA whistleblowers recently approached the American Tradition Institute and revealed politics were at-play in the decision to censor the EPA’s actual findings in Dimock. At the heart of the cover-up was former EPA head Lisa Jackson. EnergyWire’s Mike Soraghan explained the studies were dropped – according to one of the unidentified whistleblowers close to the field team in Dimock – “out of fear the inquiries would hurt President Obama’s re-election chances.” “Many members of the email group…were lawyers and members of Lisa Jackson’s inner political circle,” explained Soraghan.
Though the two EPA career employees’ initial findings pointed to water contamination in Dimock – as seen in the PowerPoint presentation – their superiors told them to stop the investigation, in turn motivating them to blow the whistle. One of the whistleblowers said he came forward due to witnessing “patently unethical and possibility illegal acts conducted by EPA management.”
Slides from Ernst presentations