Colorado Energy Cheat Sheet, Christmas Edition: WY report finds fracking ‘unlikely’ in contamination at Pavillion; EPA spill report gives agency a pass; solar industry acknowledges reliance on tax credits
Filed under: CDPHE, Environmental Protection Agency, Hydraulic Fracturing, Legislation, New Energy Economy, preferred energy, renewable energy, solar energy, wind energy
Energy In Depth picks up on the state of Wyoming’s long-delayed and much-expected report on possible fracking-related contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming as alleged by activists and theorized by the Environmental Protection Agency:
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has just released the results of its 30-month investigation into water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming, and it has concluded that hydraulic fracturing is unlikely to have been the cause. As the report explains,
“Evidence suggests that upward gas seepage (or gas charging of shallow sands) was happening naturally before gas well development.
It is unlikely that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallower depths intercepted by water- supply wells. Evidence does not indicate that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallow depths intersected by water-supply wells. The likelihood that the hydraulic fracture well stimulation treatments (i.e. often less than 200 barrels) employed in the Pavillion Gas Field have led to fluids interacting with shallow groundwater (i.e. water-supply well depths) is negligible.” (emphasis added)
As the Casper-Star Tribune put it,
“Samples taken from 13 water wells in 2014 detected high levels of naturally occurring pollution. Test results showed little evidence of contaminants associated with oil and gas production.”
The cost to taxpayers was fairly large, with the state of Wyoming having to pick up from the EPA’s abandoned efforts to link fracking and contamination:
A 30-month state investigation costing more than $900,000 concludes fracking is unlikely to have contaminated drinking water east of Pavillion but leaves many other questions unresolved about the role natural gas operations may have played in polluting the water.
Samples taken from 13 water wells in 2014 detected high levels of naturally occurring pollution. Test results showed little evidence of contaminants associated with oil and gas production.
Those findings, released Friday as part of a report by the state Department of Environmental Quality, come almost four years to the day since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft report tentatively linking fracking to polluted water outside this tiny central Wyoming community.
EPA ultimately turned over its investigation to the state in 2013, fearing, as a Star-Tribune report later showed, that it could not defend its initial conclusion.
Not that these conclusions will dissuade anti-fracking activists, who will continue to cite Pavillion even after the determination the connection was “unlikely”:
The DEQ report left several key questions unresolved. While fracking was ruled out as a likely source of contamination, the DEQ report did not completely exonerate Encana Corp., the Canadian company that operates the Pavillion gas field.
Regulators said more research is needed to determine if gas wells have served as a pathway for contaminants reaching drinking water sources. And they noted additional examination is needed of disposal pits in the area, where drilling mud and cuttings have been stored for decades and could have leaked into the groundwater.
But in a sign of Pavillion’s complexity, they said the area’s unique geology might also be to blame. Pavillion’s gas bearing formations are shallow, permeable and relatively close to formations that produce drinking water.
After 30 months, there is some clarity, but Pavillion will remain a contentious narrative as anti-fractivists push forward across the country and in Colorado next year.
Current and former Colorado politicos chime in on the Paris climate change conference:
Former Colorado Sen. Timothy Wirth, known for organizing the 1988 Hansen hearing that helped propel the issue of climate change to national attention, said the Paris agreement marks a turning point in the international community’s commitment to fighting global warming.
“The fact that every country has agreed and nobody is denying the science means that this agreement has a very important science base, which did not occur before, with a real strong consensus around the science,” Wirth said.
Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said the Paris agreement would have little realistic impact on limiting some of the world’s biggest polluters and was instead a distraction from more pressing foreign policy issues.
“Once again, the president is attempting to give away the barn by forcing Americans to shoulder the cost for a climate deal that does nothing tangible to limit the world’s biggest polluters like China, India and Mexico,” Tipton said. “The American people would be far better served by an administration that is focused on addressing the national security threats posed by ISIS instead of finding new ways to further punish responsible American energy producers and drive up energy costs on American families.”
Looks like the EPA is trying to skip out on responsibility for the poisonous Animas River spill it triggered in southwest Colorado back in August, according to The Daily Signal:
In their report, the EPA claims it was engaged in only “careful scraping and excavation” with a backhoe outside the mine. “Just prior to finishing, a team noticed a water spout a couple of feet high in the air near where they had been excavating.”
The report goes on to say that the spout (that they just happened to notice) quickly turned into a gusher of yellow toxic water.
It seems the EPA would have us believe the mine erupted on its own (which is like arguing, but, Your Honor, I was just carrying the gun when it went off all on its own!).
The EPA’s report goes on to allege that the mine entrance (or adit) was larger than they “anticipated,” and the “fact that the adit opening was about 2 times the assumed 8 to 10 foot maximum adit height resulted in a closer than anticipated proximity to the adit brow, and combined with the pressure of the water was enough to cause the spout and blowout.”
In other words, the mine did it!
Is it possible that the spill was caused by the EPA being careless? Nope. The authors claim they were digging “to better inform a planned consultation” scheduled for nine days later.
Essentially, the EPA claims that the spill was an act of God, rather than its own fault.
More reports are forthcoming, as well as hearings and other activities, including lawsuits. This spill won’t easily recede from the news any time soon:
DENVER – Congressional Republicans are questioning whether the Environmental Protection Agency interfered with a separate investigation into the Gold King Mine spill after an earlier internal review clashed with other accounts of the incident.
In a letter Friday to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr., U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, questioned the timing and substance of recent interviews conducted by EPA officials.
The separate report from the inspector general is not expected until early 2016.
“It was a very narrow focus, and it was incomplete, and there are obvious discrepancies …” Bishop told The Durango Herald at a congressional hearing last week at a mine in Idaho Springs, referencing the EPA’s Aug. 24 internal report. “It raises all sorts of questions about what’s taken place. That’s why we’ve got to start over.”
And La Plata County has tentatively agreed to EPA (taxpayer) funded remediation, which the agency still needs to approve:
A 10-year cooperative agreement in which the Environmental Protection Agency would provide $2.4 million for remedial efforts related to the Aug. 5 Gold King Mine spill received unanimous support from La Plata County Board commissioners on Tuesday.
The federal agency has assumed responsibility for a breach at the abandoned mine portal that sent 3 million gallons of mining wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.
EPA officials have until Feb. 1 to approve, amend or reject the agreement, which includes eight tasks to ensure the future health and safety of the county’s residents and environment. Those include continued work with Wright Water Engineers, which has conducted for the county an analyses on the Animas River’s health, independent of the EPA.
Other initiatives include a real-time water-monitoring system to alert the county of changes in water quality, developing a response plan for future environmental incidents and hiring a contractor for community outreach – to explain pre- and post-spill data to the public.
Sometimes in the course of celebratory effusion, the proponents of renewable energy–in this case, solar advocates begging for an extension of the 30 percent investment tax credit–spill the beans on how much the industry is completely reliant on government subsidies in order not just to be competitive in their parlance, but actually remain “viable” at all (and in Slate, no less):
The solar investment tax credit—in which owners of solar-panel systems get a 30 percent tax credit—was always meant to be temporary and is set to expire next year. [emphasis added] The Republicans in Congress generally favor fossil fuels over renewables, generally oppose anything President Obama is for, and deny the need to deal with climate change. So as fall settled in, investors began to focus on the fact that by the end of 2016, the solar investment tax credit of 30 percent would fall to 10 percent for commercial systems and disappear entirely for home-based systems.
Another problem: Renewable energy is as much about financial engineering as it is about electrical engineering. For solar to work, investors had to believe that the structures rigged up to build solar would stand up over time… [emphasis added]
Next, Washington delivered—defying the conventional wisdom. Newly installed House Speaker Paul Ryan realized that he’d have to negotiate with congressional Democrats if he wanted to get a budget and tax deal before the end of the year. And as they came to the table, another miracle happened: The Democrats held fast. On Dec. 14, Democrats indicated they would be willing to support the Republican-backed effort to lift the ban on oil exports—but only if the Republicans would consent to measures including a multiyear extension of renewable energy credits. It worked. Last Friday, Congress voted to extend the 30 percent solar investment tax credit through 2019, and then to reduce it to 10 percent through 2022.
That move instantly made the U.S. solar industry viable for another six years. [emphasis added] Investors were elated. SolarCity’s stock popped as details of the budget agreement began to emerge and then soared on its announcement. By Friday, the stock was above $56, up about 117 percent from its November low. SunEdison’s stock closed on Friday at $6.51, up 127 percent in a month. The Guggenheim Solar ETF is up about 30 percent from Nov. 19 through last Friday.
God bless us, everyone.
It will cost us, everyone. Except for the solar companies, who are busy carving up the fatted Christmas goose.
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.
Has any media outlet bothered to ask if the EPA’s theory on groundwater contamination in Wyoming and hydraulic fracturing is even right?
The Independence Institute’s Energy Policy Blog can’t be accused (at least not accurately) of being in the tank for the oil and gas industry. We’ve been on opposite sides of several of the industry’s key issues in Colorado. We opposed HB 1365, the fuel-switching bill, and HB 1291, the State Implementation Plan. We favored a repeal of Colorado’s carbon tax, while the oil and gas industry argued for the language to remain in statute.
Now, however, these pages are defending the oil and gas industry against attacks on the decades-old, proven process of hydraulic fracturing, which pumps a blended liquid into the ground (far below water tables) to increase the flow of natural gas and oil. Already heavily regulated, hydraulic fracturing is a safe, cost-effective way to expand production, lower the price of liquid fossil fuels, ensure an abundant domestic supply, create high paying jobs, and provide revenue to local and state governments.
The latest EPA announcement is just another battle in the war on fracking, which is an attempt by anti-fossil fuel activists to shut down domestic production and force consumers to use more expensive, less reliable wind and solar energy sources. And the media serves as a willing accomplice.
Today’s Denver Post jumped on the freaked out over hydraulic fracturing bandwagon following yesterday’s sensational EPA release that a “draft finding” MAY link hydraulic fracturing to groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming.
The front page, top of the fold print edition reads, “HYDRAULIC FRACTURING: Wells tied to fouled water. The Wyoming study could affect Colorado’s oil and gas industry.”
The online edition warns: “Hydraulic fracking linked for first time to groundwater pollution.”
With the exception of the last line in the first example, neither headline is accurate. Media around the world has reacted more like Chicken Little environmentalists rather than reporters of news, disseminators of information.
Call it a sign of the ‘Times,’ let’s say, that less than 24 hours removed from the release of EPA Region 8’s report on groundwater sampling near Pavillion, Wyo., nearly a thousand different news stories have been generated — in 12 different countries, and best we can tell, four different languages. But set aside the breathless headlines for a moment and the triumphant quotes from a small segment of folks committed to ending the responsible development of natural gas, and one’s left with a pretty straightforward question: Is EPA right? And if so, what exactly does that mean moving forward?
It’s impossible to answer the second question without an answer to the first, but that hasn’t stopped the media from trying. In fact, they haven’t even considered whether or not the EPA is right.
The Denver Post’s first paragraph from both the online and print editions reads:
Hydraulic fracturing, a controversial oil-and-gas production technique used in Colorado and across the country, has been linked for the first time to groundwater pollution in a case near Pavillion, Wyo.
First, fracking isn’t “controversial.” The process of hydraulic fracturing has been used successfully since 1949 and is not “linked” to groundwater contamination. Colorado is proof that it can be done in an eco-friendly way. More than 90 percent of our nearly 40,000 wells produce using hydraulic fracturing, and not a single case of groundwater contamination. It is a highly regulated process within a highly regulated industry. The only reason it is “controversial” is because anti-fossil fuel activists say it is.
Second, it hasn’t been linked this time either. The EPA’s press release calls it a “draft finding,” meaning it hasn’t been through any kind of peer review process. Furthermore, even the EPA says fracking “may” be the cause, not “has been linked” to groundwater contamination.
The Denver Post continues to advance the story by assuming the EPA has correctly found a “link” and that this “link” is a game changer. Reporter Mark Jaffe quotes Wyoming Governor Matt Mead’s press release about how this could have a “critical impact” on the oil and gas industry and that more research must be done. But the paper leaves out the most important part of Mead’s release – the first line: “the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft study on Pavillion wells is scientifically questionable and more testing is needed.”
Mead is trying to answer the most important question first. Is the EPA right? Yet the Post and many other news organizations have jumped to the second question, of what does this mean, without any validation or curiosity about the first.
Anti-fossil fuel activists certainly won’t challenge the EPA’s theory. The Associated Press reported, “Environmentalists welcomed the news of the EPA report, calling it an important turning point in the fracking debate.”
EID actually provides several questions that should be answered first, but the mainstream media isn’t even bothering to ask:
- Why the huge difference between what EPA found in its monitoring wells and what was detected in private wells from which people actually get their water?
- After reviewing the data collected by Region 8, why did EPA administrator Lisa Jackson tell a reporter that, specific to Pavillion, “we have absolutely no indication now that drinking water is at risk”? (video available here)
- Did all those chemicals that EPA used to drill its monitoring wells affect the results?
At least one member of Congress is calling for an answer to the most important question, “Is the EPA right?” Is its theory accurate? Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, made the following comments after speaking with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson about her agency’s “irresponsible” announcement on fracking:
EPA’s conclusions are not based on sound science but rather on political science. Its findings are premature, given that the Agency has not gone through the necessary peer-review process, and there are still serious outstanding questions regarding EPA’s data and methodology.
This announcement is part of President Obama’s war on fossil fuels and his determination to shut down natural gas production. Unfortunately for Americans, his agenda destroys good paying jobs in one of the few industries that is thriving, and increases our dependence on foreign oil.
As recently as November 9, 2011 EPA Regional Administrator James Martin said that the results of the latest round of testing in Pavillion were not significantly different from the first two rounds of testing, which showed no link between hydraulic fracturing and contamination. Yet only a few weeks later, EPA has decided the opposite. EPA is clearly not prepared to be making conclusions.
There is a pattern emerging here. Just a few months ago, the EPA Inspector General found that EPA cut corners on the endangerment finding to come to what appears to be a predetermined conclusion to regulate greenhouse gases. This most recent study on hydraulic fracturing is apparently more of the same in the Obama Administration’s ongoing war on affordable energy.
It is irresponsible for EPA to release such an explosive announcement without objective peer review. Given the serious flaws in EPA’s process, I have asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to release all the data, methodologies and protocols that have been used, and she has made a commitment to do so.
Even with the most stringent regulations, no energy source is completely without risk. But the EPA’s premature release of its theory on groundwater contamination, along with the anti-fossil fuel crowd’s cheers, and the media’s lack of critical reporting indicates more of an agenda to damage the oil and gas industry rather than assure safety in hydraulic fracturing.