By Simon Lomax
Be afraid. Be very afraid…
That was the Denver Post’s front page article on March 16, which profiled a couple – Mieko and Charles Crumbley – who claim seismic surveying near Brighton, Colo. damaged a groundwater well on their property and put cracks in some of the walls in their home. But the oil and gas company that commissioned the survey says its contractors did not cause the damage, according to the story by the Post’s environmental writer Bruce Finley. Sounds like one of those classic “he said, she said” situations, right?
Well, no, actually. In reality, the claims by the Crumbleys are very unlikely, based on readily available facts on the way seismic surveying works. But the reporter failed to include those facts, and painted a misleading and frightening picture for his readers.
The type of seismic surveying in question is carried out by vibroseis trucks, which are informally known as “thumper trucks.” The use of these trucks has greatly reduced the use of small dynamite charges in seismic surveying. Here’s how the reporter describes the way these vehicles work:
“[T]he trucks, weighing up to 30 tons, drop heavy, metal vibrator plates from their undercarriages to thump and shake the ground. Analysis of pressure waves, similar to ultrasound, generates data that companies use to determine where to drill for oil and gas.”
Sounds pretty ominous. But take a look at this video of some vibroseis trucks in action:
In fact, while these vehicles are unquestionably big, the vibrations they create are very small. For that reason, scientists with state and federal agencies, experts in academia, the geologists and engineers of the oil and gas industry, and even other media outlets have reaffirmed the safety of vibroseis trucks many times. Here are a few examples:
In an urban environment, vibroseis-generated waves are less than background noise generated by buses, trucks, and trains … At its source you can feel a vibroseis shake the ground but as you move away your ears will hear the airborne sound waves much longer than your feet can feel those in the ground.
Residents standing near a vibroseis truck … may be able to detect it, but this process will not cause any interruptions of daily life or damage to structures.
Despite their relatively benign operations, these big machines sometimes appear more daunting to the populace than the commonplace dynamite. To assuage any concerns in that regard, companies sometimes resort to public demonstrations prior to operations. … Two light bulbs and two raw eggs were buried eight inches under the vibrating pads. Following the demo, the eggs were retrieved unbroken and the light bulbs still worked – to the amazement of the crowd of onlookers…
“If you stand near the truck you’ll be able to feel slight shaking in the bottom of your feet, but the level of shaking is far below the levels required to cause damage to pavement or structures” said [USGS scientist Rob] Williams.
The seismic imaging process does not damage the street or negatively impact the earth below ground.
[T]here is no reliable evidence of these trucks causing well problems or damage to buildings.
Unfortunately, the Post story didn’t just leave out these expert opinions. The article went a step further and suggested the Crumbley claim was one of several structural damage complaints. From the news story:
“State records show that since 2000, residents have filed 16 formal complaints about seismic surveys.”
Given the statements by the USGS, NETL and others about the very low risk of structural damage from vibroseis truck, we asked the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to identify those 16 complaints, which include the Crumbley case. Then we reviewed the case files on the COGCC’s online database.
It turns out just three of the complaints allege any structural damage from vibroseis truck operations. The rest of the complaints mostly deal with disputes over property access, noise and the potential impact of these heavy vehicles on soil and crops. Besides the Crumbley case, there are no other complaints of damage to a house, and only two allegations of damage to water wells.
In the first water well complaint, from 2000, the COGCC concluded there was “no indication that oil and gas activities in this area impacted the well.” It turned out the well was located next to the burned-out shell of an old house, hadn’t been used in two years, and there was trash both around and floating inside the well. In the second water well complaint, from 2002, the COGCC found“no direct evidence of impact due to oil and gas operation” and concluded “[t]he most probable cause is corrosion in the casing from a shallow aquifer.”
So, instead of state records showing 15 other cases that support the Crumbley complaint, there appear to be none. Which makes sense, of course, because state and federal officials, industry experts and academics have repeatedly said that vibroseis trucks are very unlikely to cause structural damage.
However, let’s play the reporter’s game for a moment and assume the worst possible interpretation of those state records. Even when you group together all the 16 complaints to the COGCC that mention seismic surveying over the last 13 years – and include some more from residents in Aurora, Colo., as the Post’s story did – it’s hardly evidence of a commercial activity run amok. In fact, the Post’s own reporting suggests an average of between one and two complaints a year. That’s not bad when you consider Colorado’s oil and gas production has more than doubled since 2000. And it’s not scary either.
Of course, only time and further investigation will tell whether the Crumbley’s claims – however unlikely – are correct or mistaken. We’ll also have to wait and see if the alarmist tone of this particular news report scares some other residents into blaming seismic surveying for cracks in their drywall. But we can say two things now without equivocation: The oil and gas industry will cooperate fully with the state regulators investigating this matter, and the business of seismic surveying is nowhere near as scary as reporter Bruce Finley would have you believe.
This column appeared originally on Energy In Depth, a project of the Independent Petroleum Association of America as a research, education and public outreach program “focused on getting the facts out about the promise and potential of responsibly developing America’s onshore energy resource base.”
For a well-researched, easy-to-read, factual primer on hydraulic fracturing, check out our paper Frack Attack: Cracking the Case Against Hydraulic Fracturing.
For the last four years, the state of New York has imposed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing supposedly to give Governor Andrew Cuomo time to study the process before making a decision on whether or not to lift it.
Four years seems like a long time to study a process that has been around for decades and used safely and successfully in multiple states during that time. Now we may have some evidence as to why it has taken that long.
Last week the New York Times reported Gov. Cuomo, a democrat, buried a state analysis concluding that hydraulic fracturing can be performed safely in the empire state. According to the Times, Cuomo “has long delayed making a decision, unnerved in part by strident opposition on his party’s left.”
Coming from a politically savvy family (his father Mario Cuomo was Governor from 1983-1994), Cuomo is no stranger to party squabbles, which makes this situation even worse. A seasoned politico, Cuomo is so frighten by his eco-left flank that instead he chose to bury the facts, bury the science that came from his own state agency.
Based on the degenerating fracking dialogue in Colorado, Cuomo’s fears are justified. He may have read how the eco-left has attacked Colorado democrat Governor John Hickenlooper, a former geologist, for his support of fracking. Or Cuomo could have watched this scary video of protesters getting in Hick’s face and surrounding his car. Or maybe he saw the “Faces of Hate” in Boulder.
These tactics are meant to intimidate and squash free speech. They seem to work in New York.
Energy Policy Center Director Amy Oliver Cooke has fun talking energy, especially when wearing a hot pink “Mothers In Love with Fracking” t-shirt. Thanks to Tom Barry of The Villager for this photograph and his article on the American For Prosperity (AFP) event that featured Dick Morris. AFP invited Amy to be the warm up act to discuss Obama’s energy policy.
IP-10-2012 (July 2012)
Author: Donovan D. Schafer
PDF of full Issue Paper
Scribd version of full Issue Paper
A ban on fracking would not satisfy those who present general arguments against any kind of development. Acceptance of these arguments would require an outright ban on all oil and gas activities, new wind farm construction, electric transmission construction, residential housing developments, road construction, and the like. Before accepting any argument against fracking as sufficient grounds to restrict or ban its use, one should take that argument to its logical conclusion and consider the full set of repercussions. For if such arguments are granted valid status, they will be used again and again by whichever parties can benefit from shutting down any particular form of development.
This past Wednesday, the EPA released new regulations on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). Surprisingly, the 588 pages of regulations don’t amount to much. At best, they codify existing industry practices. At worst, they might cause delays and other unintended consequences.
The new regulations focus on “green completions” (“completions” refers to the whole well-stimulation process, including fracking). Immediately after a well is fracked, the mixture that flows back up to the surface includes water, sand, natural gas, and other hydrocarbons. Conventional equipment cannot handle the abrasive sand—because it erodes the metal components—so companies let the mixture flow into a plastic-lined pit until the sand concentration is low enough to use the conventional equipment. What the EPA and environmentalists don’t like about this process, is that while the well is flowing to the lined-pit, the gas is escaping into the air rather than going into a pipeline.
Green completions use special equipment that can filter out the sand before the mixture goes into the conventional equipment. This way, companies can separate out the natural gas and flow it into the pipeline from the very beginning.
Before these regulations, half of all completions were already using green completion technology, primarily as a way to capture and sell more of the gas. The percentage of green completions was also, undeniably, trending upward. So why the need for EPA regulations when companies were already making these changes on their own?
The concerns that gave rise to these new regulations were emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), benzene, and methane in the initial, uncaptured flow of gas. These are natural hydrocarbons and components of natural gas, i.e. they are not chemicals additives from fracking fluids (sometimes benzene is added to fracking fluids, but most benzene emissions result from the natural gas itself).
VOCs are a concern because they are SMOG precursors. SMOG is a respiratory irritant, so it can increase incidences of asthma, and cause other problems, but only at high concentrations. SMOG was first identified in Los Angeles in the 1950s, because it was so bad that people could literally see a brownish haze set over the city. But how bad is SMOG today? From 1970 to 1990 the installation of catalytic converters in cars reduced smog-forming tailpipe emissions by 99%. Consequently, when people compare SMOG caused by oil and gas activity to that from cars—as was done recently in a an article in the Dallas Morning News—they fail to realize that cars are no longer a major source of SMOG forming emissions. So, while oil and gas development does result in SMOG levels comparable to that from urban traffic, that does not suggest dangerous levels of SMOG.
Likewise, the reductions in benzene would have a minimal effect on improving health, given the ultra-low concentrations of benzene emissions, and the short-lived nature of these emissions. (for details on benzene see Fracking: Chemicals, Cancer, and Relative Risks).
While the benefits from these new regulations are likely to be elusive—and I do not support needless regulations—I must admit that they do not look terribly destructive. As already noted, many companies have already begun to do green completions.
One concern is that there may not be enough equipment available for green completions, which could cause delays or a bidding war that would drive up the prices beyond cost-effectiveness. However, the regulations do not go into effect until 2015, which should hopefully give enough time to manufacture more equipment.
Another possible problem is related to pipeline construction. When companies develop a field, they move quickly from one well to the next, in order to make the most efficient use of their drilling and fracking equipment. Sometimes, as a result, they outrun their pipeline installation crews. The pipeline, however, must be in place to do a green completion. Otherwise, there’s nowhere to put the captured gas. What companies usually do, in this case, is complete (“frack”) the well, flowback into the plastic-lined pit (for various technical reasons, flowback needs to happen right away), and then shut the well in (close the valve) until the pipeline is installed. With these new regulations, companies will have to precisely schedule their pipeline, drilling, and fracking operations. But even with the most precise scheduling, there will inevitably be delays. The regulations will compound the cost of these delays by requiring rented equipment (costing tens of thousands of dollars per day) to sit idle while pipelines catch up.
This brings me to my final criticism, common to many regulations: The one-size-fits-all approach. If it makes economic sense for a company to do a green completion (as the EPA suggests), it will do so—but under unique circumstances, such as the occasional delay, or in cases of difficult terrain, remote areas, or unique safety considerations, companies will no longer have the freedom to make intelligent well-by-well assessments of whether or not green completions make sense in a particular circumstance.
With a nation still struggling to find its way out of a recession, and a manufacturing boom fueled by cheap natural gas, why waste our efforts on needless and potentially damaging regulations? Even if the damage turns out to be small, the number of man-hours already spent drafting, reviewing, commenting on, and reading the 588 pages of regulation were, no doubt, a waste of human resources.
The Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) at the University of Colorado recently announced an article that will be published this month in the journal Science of the Total Environment. The article is based on a study of air pollution resulting from oil and gas development (including hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”) in Garfield County. According to the announcement, the article will reveal findings of benzene and other “potentially toxic petroleum hydrocarbons” at concentrations potentially hazardous to human health. But before this study, or any similar study, can be taken as a basis for alarm, several questions need to be answered: What are these “potentially toxic” chemicals? Where do they come from? And how dangerous are they really?
To answer these questions, it will be helpful to focus on just one chemical: in this case, benzene—the chemical most often associated oil and gas development. Focusing on benzene will also be helpful in evaluating the CSPH study, because, according to the announcement, benzene was the “the major contributor to lifetime excess cancer risk” found in the study.
One reason benzene is so often associated with oil and gas development is that it’s a natural hydrocarbon—like methane, propane, octane, and the hundreds of other chemicals in the mixtures we call “crude oil” and “natural gas.” Consequently, benzene is also found in gasoline, diesel fuel, and engine exhaust, which further increases the presence of benzene near oil and gas development. Lastly, because benzene has desirable chemical properties, it is also separated from crude oil for use in industrial applications, including—among many other things—use as an additive in fracking fluids.
Given the uses above, it should not be surprising that benzene can be found everywhere, not just near oil and gas development. According to the toxicology profile provided by the US Department of Health and Human Services, “Benzene is ubiquitous in the atmosphere.” Not only does it come from tailpipes, but also cigarettes, volcanoes, forest fires, and even camp fires. Government agencies, however, are usually not alarmed by the benzene levels found in our daily lives, because they recognize that the mere presence of a toxin (the fact that a laboratory can physically detect it) does not automatically pose a threat to public health: It is equally important to determine what concentrations can actually do harm.
At what level, then, does benzene become a problem? The truth is, we don’t know. With limited data, the EPA does the best it can to estimate relative risks at various levels of exposure. In the case of benzene, the EPA uses a 25-year-old study (published in 1987), in which workers were exposed to concentrations of benzene measured in parts per million (ppm)—concentrations literally thousands of times higher than the levels the EPA ultimately tries to estimate. The EPA then performs a linear extrapolation (i.e. draws a best-fit line through the data) to estimate a concentration of benzene that will result in 10 additional cancer cases (not to be confused with cancer deaths) per million people exposed. This is essentially the same as determining a level at which the cancer risk for an individual increases by one-thousandth of a percent (0.001%). When considering studies like the CSPH study, it can be more useful to think of the increased cancer risks on the individual level because the exposures in such studies are localized and rarely affect more than a million people—typically they affect a few hundred or less.
For benzene, the EPA estimates that a 0.001% increase in cancer risk corresponds to exposures of 0.4 parts per billion (ppb) in the air and 10 ppb in drinking water. For even greater caution, the EPA set the actual limit on drinking water, enforceable under the Safe Drinking Water Act, at 5 ppb.
While a 0.001% risk may seem small to begin with, there is one critical assumption that needs to be remembered when using these EPA estimates: the calculated risks assume a person will continue to be exposed to the same level of a toxin or carcinogen for their entire lifetime. This is especially unlikely in the case chemicals like benzene, because it is a biodegradable substance—and, in the case of the CSPH study, it is produced by temporary activities.
Also worth considering is the fact that a wide range of uncertainty results from the process used to generate the EPA estimates. Within the range of uncertainty, the EPA selects the most conservative (i.e. the most protective) estimate to establish as the official estimate. Thus, as explained in the EPA calculations, there is an “equal scientific plausibility” that the real levels of benzene corresponding to a 0.001% increase in cancer risk could actually be more than 3-times higher than the current estimates (1.4 ppb in the air and 35 ppb in the water).
These are important considerations when evaluating studies like the CSPH study, since these studies often express their findings in relation these EPA estimates. Without a proper understanding of what these estimates represent, they can give an exaggerated perception of the relative risks involved. Consider, for example, the EPA report that found benzene contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming. In press releases, it was announced that benzene was found at levels 49 times higher than the EPA limit. This, no doubt, caused considerable alarm for the public—but few realized that this represented a 0.02% increase in cancer risk, again, assuming a lifetime of exposure at that level. However, just six months later, the benzene level had fallen 40%. Adjusting for this rate of biodegradation, the total increased cancer risk would have been only 0.0005%. And while this level represents a very low risk, it’s also worth mentioning that this level was found in a deep monitoring well, specifically used to detect contamination—in other words, not a single person was ever actually exposed to this level of benzene. Unfortunately, none of these considerations, are quite as attention-grabbing as the statement: “Benzene found at levels 49-times above Safe Drinking Water Limit!”
Just as it is important to understand what EPA limits represent, it is also important to consider how the increased risks from a particular activity relate to increased risks from air pollution in general. The CSPH study calculated an increased cancer risk of 10 cases per million people living near oil and gas development. But, when compared to the average increased cancer risk nationwide—due to factors such as automobile emissions and industrial activity—the numbers are not quite as alarming. According to the EPA’s most recent National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment, the average increased cancer risk nationwide due to air pollution is 50 cases per million. The risk in Denver is even higher (almost 80 per million) simply because it is an urban environment. Garfield County, on the other hand, has a risk of only 20 per million. Thus, a person living near oil and gas development in Garfield County will experience a cancer risk of roughly 30 per million, far below the national average, and less than half the risk that results from living in an urban environment.
Benzene and other air pollutants should not be ignored when discussing oil and gas development. But it is important for the public to realize that the limits set by the EPA reflect concentrations that present very small—though perhaps not insignificant—risks, and that these risks are comparable to the risks associated with automobile emissions, urban living, and industrial activities in general.
It should also be remembered that, for the purposes of this post, benzene was used as an example because it is one of the most dangerous and most common chemicals associated with oil and gas development; however, the same considerations and relative risks apply the many other chemicals associated with oil and gas development—including xylenes, trimethylbenzenes, aliphatic hydrocarbons, and other compounds that will likely to receive attention in the CSPH study.
This post will be the first in series on hydraulic fracturing (”fracking”), in which Independence Institute research associate, Donovan Schafer, will take on specific issues related to fracking. In this post he focuses on the claim that fracking will deplete Colorado’s water resources. Enjoy!
Two recent articles—one in the Denver Post and another in the Huffington Post—present the issue of water depletion as it is commonly presented by those who oppose fracking. Wendell G. Bradley, in the Denver Post, urges lawmakers to “cut off fracking’s unconscionable amounts of water use,” while Gary Wockner, in the Huffington Post, warns that fracking would use up the “last drop in the bucket of Colorado’s rivers.”
These views simply do not reflect reality. In January, the Colorado Division of Water Resources, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission issued a joint report estimating that fracking would account for just eight-hundredths of a percent (0.08%) of Colorado’s annual water usage—far less than what we use for recreational purposes (5.64%) and slightly more than what we use to make fake snow (0.03%).
But fracking is different—these authors claim—because the water is left in “deep subterranean cavities,” and thus fracking “permanently remove[s] billions of gallons of water from the hydrologic cycle.” This statement gives the false impression that fracking can significantly affect the hydrologic cycle. It cannot. The hydrologic cycle is not a fixed supply of freshwater, but rather a constantly recharging system that begins with the nearly infinite expanse of the oceans.
Just for fun, let’s accept the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prediction that sea levels will rise by one foot during the next century. A few simple calculations show that it would take one hundred million (100,000,000) frack-jobs, each using 5 million gallons of water, to counteract the predicted one-foot rise in sea level. In other words, the oceans which serve as the starting point for the hydrologic cycle cannot possibly be affected by hydraulic fracturing in any significant way—and even if they could be affected, the general effect would be to counteract the threat of rising sea levels, which we are constantly warned about.
Some of the fracking nay-sayers, seem to concede these points, but then they go on to assert that there is still a problem. They warn that even a small additional use of water will be enough to completely dry up the system. Consider Gary Wockner’s line of reasoning:
It is true that the state of Colorado contains millions of acre feet of water, and that fracking may only need a small percentage of it. But more importantly and to the point, it is also true that fracking is a brand new use of water . . . . Fracking would certainly contribute to being the last drop in the bucket of Colorado’s rivers.
But this, too, is misleading. Every drop of water withdrawn requires, by law, approval from water permitting authorities. Furthermore, these permitting authorities cannot simply give away the proverbial “last drop.” Currently, by law, all new water uses must be balanced against current water uses. To quote the CDWR Report, “water cannot be simply diverted from a stream/reservoir or pumped out of the ground for hydraulic fracturing without reconciling that diversion with the prior appropriation system.” Claims that fracking will gobble up the last drop are just plain nonsense.
In the face of claims like those presented in this post, remember these three points:
- Fracking would present a mere 0.08% of Colorado’s annual water usage;
- Even though some water is left underground, the amounts of water involved cannot possibly have an appreciable effect on the hydrologic cycle, because that cycle is fueled by our massive oceans;
- And, lastly, the added water uses from fracking will not suck the system dry, because current laws require that new uses be reconciled and balanced with current appropriations.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the specific fracking issues that you need to know about.
Two bills concerning hydraulic fracturing can be summarized best as excessive regulations in search of problems. I consulted with Doug Flanders, director of policy and external affairs for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), who provides a summary of each bill citing statistics from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), the state agency charged with the “responsible development of Colorado’s oil and gas natural resources.”
House Sponsors: Roger Wilson (D-HD 61)
Senate Sponsors: None
Rep Wilson wants to ban all hydraulic fracturing open pits. It’s a little like other “zero tolerance” policies, which always have negative unintended consequences. Besides, the trend already is toward a closed loop system as Flanders explains:
According to the COGCC, the percentage of well pads utilizing closed loop or pitless drilling systems has increased from 31% in January 2010 to 79% in March 2011 and that number continues to rise. The COGCC considers many factors when reviewing permit applications for surface operations, all of which are designed to protect the health, welfare, and safety of the surrounding population. COGC Rule 907 provides general requirements to ensure that exploration and production waste is properly stored, handled, transported, treated, recycled, and disposed. Operators are encouraged to: reduce the quantity and toxicity of their waste; recycle, reuse and reclaim it; treat it to reduce toxicity; and dispose of it in a manner that protects the environment. Several of the 900 Series Rules require simple practices for reducing waste toxicity and volume, including: removing oil and condensate before produced water is placed in a production pit (Rule 907.c) and subsequent removal of any accumulation within 24 hours (Rule 902.c).
Prediction: Rep. Wilson apparently is not a fan of hydraulic fracturing, but the majority of House members are. This bill dies in committee.
House Sponsors: Su Ryden (D-HD 36), Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-HD 10), Matt Jones (D-HD 12), Nancy Todd (D-HD 41), and Wilson
Senate Sponsors: None
Another bill going after hydraulic fracturing with a reasonable sounding title, but in reality the details reveal burdensome and unnecessary regulations with severe negative consequences including reducing the regulatory discretion of the COGGG. Most dangerous is the expanded definition of “surface owner” which would allow for the violation of private property rights as Flanders explains in his summary:
COGCC has already looked at wells in subdivisions and determined 300 feet as the appropriate distance for public safety in high density residential areas. However, at their discretion, the COGCC can determine that a greater distance is required. COGCC has been tracking setback metrics since the adoption of the amended rules on December 17, 2008. Of the 4836 well locations sited during this period, 91% or 4410 are 500 feet or greater from a building structure. (And buildings are often not residences.)
The value of the surface to homebuilders should be considered in determining any setbacks. If there is an existing well, then any new homes or schools would also have to be 1000 feet from the existing well.
The bill also changes the definition of a surface owner to be more than just the owner of the land where the oil and gas operations occur, but would also include any land which overlays the horizontal path of the operations if hydraulic fracturing occurs, despite that fact that horizontal drilling can extend over one mile in length and over a mile and half in below the surface. This would unnecessarily hinder drilling operations below surface that would not impact surface buildings.
Prediction: Reason will prevail in the House. This bill will die in committee.
Those who thought environmentalists would tolerate development of natural gas as a “clean” technology along side wind and solar were mistaken.
There could be one less sponsor of anti-fracking legislation next year, Rep Wilson was drawn out of his current House district and will not seek re-election.
Remember to check the energy blog for updates on all energy legislation. We read this stuff so you don’t have to.
Commerce City is twisting itself in knots over whether or not to allow hydraulic fracturing within its city limits. The City Council delayed the moratorium vote for another month so it could discuss the issue further according to reports from 9 News.
Commerce City officials would be wise to head north and seek counsel from Greeley. In an interview on the Amy Oliver Show, Greeley Mayor Tom Norton revealed that the city has roughly 200 wells within its boundaries that are hydraulically fractured. It’s been going on for years, and he has no cause for concern. Furthermore, the wells serve as a revenue stream for the city.
With more than 18,000 wells, 90 percent of which are hydraulically fractured, Greeley and Weld County have proven that oil and gas can peacefully and environmentally co-exist with landowners, including those in urban areas.
Commerce City residents have no reason to fear hydraulically fracturing. In fact the only people who should be afraid of fracking are those who make money selling Middle East oil to the United States. In our new energy economy, we have the Saudis running scared.
While the Denver Post played the role of Rocky Mountain eco-Chicken Little of record, another news outlet — the Casper Star-Tribune — reported former Colorado Senator and current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s opinion of the EPA’s premature press release about a “draft finding” regarding a link that may or may not exist between hydraulic fracturing and groundwater pollution in Pavillion, Wyoming.
- The EPA drilled two deep monitoring wells (depth range: 783 – 981 feet) into a natural gas reservoir and found components of natural gas, which is an entirely expected result. The results in the EPA deep wells are radically different than those in the domestic water wells (typically less than 300 feet deep), thereby showing no connection. Natural gas developers didn’t put the natural gas at the bottom of the EPA’s deep monitoring wells, nature did.
- Several of the man-made chemicals detected in the EPA deep wells have never been detected in any of the other wells sampled. They were, however, detected in many of the quality control (blank) samples – which are ultra purified water samples commonly used in testing to ensure no contamination from field sampling procedures. These two observations suggest a more likely connection to what it found is due to the problems associated with EPA methodology in the drilling and sampling of these two wells.
- The EPA’s reported results of all four phases of its domestic water well tests do not exceed federal or state drinking water quality standards for any constituent related to oil and gas development.
- The EPA report ignores well-known historical realities with respect to the Pavillion field’s unique geology and hydrology.
Let’s get this straight, the EPA drills monitoring wells up to three times deeper than normal drinking water wells in a geologically complex area, finds different components in the water, and then claims pollution from fracking. The man-made chemicals found in monitoring wells were also found in the “ultra-purified” control samples. Encana is being kind to call the EPA’s conclusions “irresponsible.”
The Denver Post did report on Encana’s response but didn’t provide much in the way of details. Instead the headline reads “Encana disputes fracking finding.” Of course Encana “disputes” the “draft finding.” The news story is in the details, such as those listed above.
Finally, the EPA announced a public comment period from December 14, 2011 to January 27, 2012. (The document says January 27, 2011, but we’re pretty sure the EPA means 2012):
EPA is announcing a 45-day public comment period for the external review of the draft research report titled, “Investigation of Ground Water Contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming.” The draft research report was prepared by the National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL), within the EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD), and EPA Region 8. EPA is releasing this draft research report solely for the purpose of pre-dissemination peer review. This draft research report has not been formally disseminated by EPA. It does not represent and should not be construed to represent any Agency policy or determination. Eastern Research Group, Inc. (ERG), an EPA contractor for external peer review, will convene an independent panel of experts for peer review of this draft research report. Public comments submitted during the public comment period will be made available to the peer review panel for consideration in their review. In preparing a final report, EPA will consider the recommendations of the peer review panel.
Maybe the EPA should have announced the public comment period before it issued a press release and “disseminated” information to news outlets.
Secretary Salazar is smart to wait for the “real facts” swirling around the groundwater in Pavillion, Wyoming. We’ll wait for them too, even if anti-fossil fuel zealots and their accomplices in the media won’t.
Thank you to Energy In Depth for its coverage of the EPA’s Frack-gate, and to Chris Tucker of EID for appearing on the Amy Oliver Show and sharing this information with listeners. All of this information can be found on the EID Web site.