Monday, March 19, 2012

EPA Becomes Everybody's Dimock "Fracking" Punching Bag

Forgive Lisa Jackson, if she is about now rethinking the wisdom of entering the fracking fracas in Dimock, Pennsylvania.  The EPA is taking punches from all directions.

When the EPA announced in January it would deliver water to 4 families and conduct water testing of as many as 60 water wells, the gas drilling company under the microscope--Cabot Oil and Gas--greeted the EPA announcement with a both a critical press statement and a tough letter to the Wall Street Journal, saying that the EPA involvement was unwarranted and could make matters worse.  Some industry supporters even saw the EPA actions in Dimock as an indication that the EPA supposedly opposed gas production and hydraulic fracturing.

By contrast, back in January, most environmentalists reacted triumphantly and welcomed the EPA into the controversy.  That was then and not now.

Now that the water tests are back from 11 water wells, including 3 to which the EPA is delivering water, and show the water to be safe to drink, it's some environmentalists that are issuing tough denunciations of the EPA, while Cabot sings a different tune.  Celebrity Mark Ruffalo goes so far to say the EPA has allowed its investigation to be employed as part of the "gas industry's spin machine" and darkly demands that "independent" scientists review its testing, suggesting that the EPA perhaps even distorted the testing.

As long as EPA is behaving professionally and independently of those pleading cases, facts always will turn the EPA from hero to villain or villain to hero, depending on whom they gore.  Anyone who has sat in the regulatory hot seat is well aware of this pattern of being attacked from all directions, and facts are no shield. This pattern is also one reason that faith in government has reached dangerously low levels if society is to function reasonably.

As for me, I generally think more data and facts are better than less.  The EPA testing in Dimock adds to a huge amount of testing done by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)  and others.  The EPA is not out to "get" the gas industry or be part of its spin machine. It decided to do this testing so that it could be assured of the water quality in the selected wells and report the results to the public.  I welcome its test results, no matter what they show.


  1. Concerned ScientistMarch 19, 2012 at 7:16 PM

    I agree. Data talks and everything else is conjecture. In the end this really helps everyone involved except those who have lawsuits against Cabot or who have made a life out of opposing fracking. I still think that the EPA acted too hastily in bringing water to those people at all because the problems with their water were pretty clearly of a natural origin and unrelated to oil and gas drilling. But best to err on the side of safety I guess and now that the EPA has come in and found the water to be fine, the anti-fracking groups sound ever more shrill. Now the EPA is in on the conspiracy with the gas companies and the DEP. The larger the conspiracy gets the less plausible and their movement will run out of steam or become entirely composed of "9-11 truthers."

  2. EPA results do not negate the fact that Secretary Hanger initiated the promise of a water line and told us that he could not guarantee that the aquifer could supply us with reliable water. EPA test results do not erase what I saw smelled and refused to drink. It has been a few years since drilling around me, I would like to think things have settled down. Time will tell and when drilling resumes on the 11 unfinished wells around me I will have a predrill this time-last time the gas company refused my request for one- and can use that without its validity being suspect. I too seek the truth.. I live here.

  3. John - Would you please address specifically, question by question, the questions that Kate Sinding raises on her NRDC blog.

    I look forward to reading your comments

  4. I would be glad to do so but cannot right now. Stay tuned. Thank you for suggesting it.

  5. Also, John, as you know there is information coming out by the minute it seems, such as:

    The thing is, John, you seem to want to jump in quite quickly to say that "All is well" when that does not appear to be the case, far from it.

    Beware yourself of becoming the conveyance of "ideological junk" that you hope to counter in your blog. You have a heavy burden to bear (in my humble opinion, certainty not in your conscience near as I can tell) letting this beastly horse of unconventional drilling out of the barn.

    1. Stephen:

      Oil and Gas drilling had been going in Pennsylvania about 150 years before I became Secretary of DEP on September 2nd, 2008. You overstate my authority. The state Oil and Gas Act had been the law of the land about 25 years before I became Secretary. This law provides the authority and the limits of authority to regulate or prohibit, as you may wish, the issuance of permits for gas drilling once applied for. Shale gas exploratory wells were drilled in 2005. Shale gas production wells were permitted and drilled in 2007 and 2008 before I became Secretary. You greatly overstate the authority of my predecessor or me, if you suggest we had the legal authority to bar gas drilling. We had the authority to regulate gas drilling to a significant extent. Starting within days of becoming Secretary, I pushed to completion 5 major rulemakings--raising the fee to apply to drill from a ridiculous $100 to as much as $10,000 and investing all funds in hiring more oversight staff; imposing a water plan requirement on withdrawals with a stringent standard to regulate withdrawals; changing for the first time in PA history to require the treatment of drilling wastewater for TDS from new (shale) or expanded discharges; new drilling standards for well design, construction materials, mandatory disclosure of chemicals, and more; a mandatory buffer requirement for 22,000 miles of streams or a quarter of PA streams. The fee money was used to more than double the regulatory staff and 1200 violations were issued to the industry in 2010, more than twice the next highest state, and open two new gas oversight drilling offices. And as someone who lives in the Three Mile Island evacuation area, I know that there are huge risks associated with all sources of energy. The EPA states that pollution from coal fired power plants kills 34,000 people per year. None of it comes from natural gas plants. These facts need to be faced honestly.

    2. Concerned ScientistMarch 21, 2012 at 12:48 PM

      Wow - this was a totally unfair personal attack.

      I love that people would rather trust Abraham Lustgarten than the EPA. Here is Lustgarten's bio:

      "Abrahm Lustgarten is a former staff writer and contributor for Fortune, and has written for Salon, Esquire, the Washington Post and the New York Times since receiving his master's in journalism from Columbia University in 2003. He is the author of the book China’s Great Train: Beijing’s Drive West and the Campaign to Remake Tibet, a project that was funded in part by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation."

      Prior to the fracking story that has made him famous, he was reporting on politics in China. He has no experience with oil and gas drilling, subsurface geology, chemistry, hydrology or any of the science or engineering skills that would be required to speak knowledgeably on this issue. That has been quite clear from the beginning as he has made a bunch of silly mistakes in his writing. The same is true for Josh Fox, avant-garde filmmaker, Mark Ruffalo, actor, and many of the others involved. But all of a sudden they know more than the lifetime scientists and engineers at the EPA and DEP.

  6. There is a link to some of the detailed EPA test data at:

    Stanley R Scobie, Ph.D., Binghamton, NY