Friday, June 21, 2013

The EPA Shockingly Retreats From Its Pavillion Fracking Investigation: Critics Will Now Pound EPA

The Washington Post reports that the EPA has thrown in the towel in its Pavillion investigation.

The Washington Post report is based on a press release from Wyoming Governor Mead:

In the release, the Acting EPA Administrator says:

“In light of this announcement, we believe that EPA’s focus going forward should be on using our resources to support Wyoming’s efforts, which will build on EPA’s monitoring results,” said EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe.  “We applaud the leadership of Wyoming in conducting further investigation and assuring safe water and look forward to partnering with the State as it conducts its investigation.”

I am frankly amazed that the EPA has reached this point. Conducting investigations competently is a requirement of sound regulation. That is especially true when issues and causation are controversial and complex, as they are in most groundwater pollution inquiries.

The EPA has just put a "kick me" sign on it. Its critics from all quarters will now oblige.


  1. I am sad for John Fenton and all that had the courage to stay and tell the truth. The madness spreads and I can only pray for my friends, myself and hope.

  2. Concerned ScientistJune 22, 2013 at 5:08 AM

    Interesting. Pavillion did seem to be a case where it might be possible that fracking fluids could have entered the groundwater. The wells were fracked a depth of only 1200 feet and the casing in some of the wells did not even extend to the base of the fresh water aquifer which extends down about 800 feet from the surface. Contrast this with PA where the Marcellus is at least 5000 feet deep and there are multiple casing strings protecting the groundwater.

    The original data released by EPA always sounded a little strange though. And closer scrutiny revealed many problems with the acquisition of the data including possible chemicals that could have been introduced by the drilling of the monitoring wells.

    If there was groundwater contamination there as a result of the fracking, it was not obvious. Tests of all water wells from the farms in the area revealed no sign of any frack fluids. Just as has been the case in PA.

    I think it is safe to say that fracking itself does not and will not contaminate groundwater in any significant way. People who continue to bring this up as an issue are misinformed. There are real issues with natural gas development that do demand attention and strict regulation such as truck traffic, noise, land use, casing programs and integrity, spills on the surface and wastewater management. But groundwater contamination by the fracking process itself is not a significant issue.

    The EPA's best work on this issue came in Dimcok where they tested 61 wells and found no evidence of contamination by frack fluids. Their worst effort was in Texas where it turned out that video evidence of methane contamination had been faked by a landowner and a local environmental group and that the EPA administrator in the area had been a little too friendly with the environmental group leader. And now Pavillion where it looks like a botch job and kind of a waste of taxpayer dollars. And some people want the EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing? They look like the Keystone Kops to me.

  3. John, I would like to ask your opinion on this glycol dehydration station. The question is: Would you shut it down?

    Here are some issues with the station. 3 accidental releases in the 9 months it's been in operation. PVR Partners is currently doing a soil test on the last accident a couple of days ago.

    1. For some reason, I could not see the video. i will try later again. The military has a good approach when normal efforts to prevent accidents don't work. In such circumstances, they have ordered flying of particular aircraft for example to stop for a period. Requiring a persistent violator to stop for a period to get its act together is a useful tool in the regulatory toolkit.

    2. Thanks for trying John. There are 2 videos. Try copying and pasting one line in your browser. I think the 20 families would hire a plane to fly around the station if it would give them some piece of mind.

  4. After having gone over the EPA report pretty thoroughly and then the technical comments submitted to the EPA, a few critical mistakes in the EPA's study come to mind.

    For all of the EPA's talk of elevated potassium and pH in the groundwater coming from potassium hydroxide in the frack fluids, it turns out that nobody had used potassium hydroxide to frack any wells in the area. As filed by one of the commenters, state records demonstrate that CO2 foams were used instead, which should have lowered pH and probably make no difference in potassium (depending on the composition of sedimentary rocks in the area).

    It didn't help that the EPA used a cement prone to increasing potassium and pH too. Further, the only wells that showed the increased pH and potassium were the EPA wells, not the privately owned water wells. Plus, when the USGS came in to re-test the EPA wells by pumping water out of them, the water chemistry kept changing (pH and potassium levels dropping) and never got to a baseline (i.e. there appears to be a halo of contamination around the EPA wells).

    Further, the hydrology of the EPA's claims didn't make sense. What the EPA showed as mostly interconnected sandstones from depth to surface, allowing fluids to migrate upward, is nothing like reality, with sandstones encased in siltstones, and these siltstones should make significant permeability barriers. Finally, the EPA did no groundwater mapping at all to determine whether the hydraulic gradients made it even possible for frack fluid to move from a fracked well to a water well.

    Really, it turned out this was just a botched study no matter how much the EPA is standing behind it. Frankly, once it got to peer review, they were going to get terribly embarrassed. Better to pull it now than suffer worse reputational consequences later.

  5. potassium hydroxide was used as a solvent at the site

  6. Miguelito,

    I strongly disagree with your last paragraph. I don't believe it is possible for the EPA to suffer worse consequences to its reputation than it has generated by abandoning a multi-year, multi-phase, million dollar? investigation, just before a peer review process was to finalize it.

    In place of the peer reviewed report, we are stuck (at best), with people, writing anonymous opinions. In effect, a rather empty debate fueled by speculation.

    The fact that the EPA says it stands behind its report, and investigation, but then removes it from the final phase, handing it over to Wyoming to complete, or, investigate in whatever direction it desires, while being funded by Encana, can not be more embarrassing for the Agency, or the Obama Administration.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but this work started in 2006 or so, when the Meeks, Fentons et al (39 water wells were eventually investigated by the EPA?) complained to Wyoming DEQ that their water had become contaminated. Wyoming allowed Encana, the accused driller, to perform the tests concerning the contamination. Encana returned with a statement that no contamination existed, and whatever might exist, had nothing to do with Encana. Wyoming simply repeated that report to the victims. Meeks, Fenton et al brought their case to the EPA which started investigating in 2008. Now, in June of 2013, after declaring damning evidence against Encana, the EPA abandons its report just before finalization, and hands the investigation back to Wyoming and Encana?

    Even if the peer review process would have diagnosed shoddy work, and mistaken conclusions, on the part of the EPA, to my mind, it would still be much better than what has occurred.

    I find this all to be a disgrace. I can't imagine what Mr. Meeks, Mr. Fenton, and all the other impacted families must feel.

    Impacted families are not going to stand for this kind of behavior by governmental regulatory agencies, much longer. Impacted families are not going to stand by anymore while industry is allowed to run roughshod over them.

    I believe former Secretary Hanger is aware of these feelings, and, is willing to respond in meaningful ways, if he succeeds in becoming our next Governor of PA.
    As a resident/voter in PA, I certainly hope he will.


    James Barth

  7. Secretary Hanger,

    I recently read in a news article that you support a continued moratorium in the Delaware River Basin, as PA DEP under Corbett, has been far too ineffective at regulating and enforcing existing laws, and, that certain regulations need to be strengthened. I too support the moratorium, and recently, Governor Corbett, the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance, the Wayne County Commissioners, and Senator Toomey have in quick succession, mounted a coordinated campaign to exert pressure on the staff at the DRBC. I can't fathom why they are attacking the Executive Director, Carol Collier, as it is the commissioners who vote, but, given what I have just written, I wanted to share with you a link to a story about a study conducted by Jerry Kauffman, the Water Resources Agency project director at the University of Delaware.

    I saw him give this presentation at the DRBC over two years ago, and, I'm happy to see that he is still making the presentation, and that it is getting some press.

    Please take a look.

    Thank You,

    James Barth