Friday, July 5, 2013

Pro Publica Uses Both Legs To Kick EPA After It Goofs Pavillion Drilling Investigation

The EPA put the "kick me" sign on itself by goofing its important fracking investigation in Pavillion, Wyoming.  Going beyond the Pavillion mess, Pro Publica kicks the EPA, with gusto, in this story:

Of course, Pro Publica is not alone in kicking the EPA.  With ill-concealed glee, some in the gas industry pound the EPA for supposedly being too zealous in Pavillion and elsewhere.

Regulators occupy the hot seat. The only way to manage the heat is to embrace professionalism and independence.  By doing so, good regulators deliver findings that will annoy everyone over time. EPA simply must do much better, when conducting complex investigations, especially in the fracking wars where one side or perhaps both sides will be out to trash its conclusions.

Another consequence of EPA's problems in Pavillion is too little attention paid to important facts established there.  For example, ground storage pits did leak drilling wastewater and did contaminate groundwater in the Pavillion area.  The gas industry does not contest this significant environmental impact.  It is time to ban the storage of drilling wastewater in outdoor pits.

In addition, the fracking done in Pavillion was in some instances too close to groundwater to be responsible, whether or not it caused contamination.  It also should be noted that the gas developed in Pavillion was not shale gas and drilling and fracking there had been taking place for decades.

Contrary to the impression left in the Pro Publica story, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in 2010 did test water wells in Dimock for both methane and fracking fluids.  The tests proved both that 18 water wells had been contaminated by gas migrating from gas wells drilled by Cabot and that no fracking fluids had returned from depth.

Methane polluting water wells, from mistakes in cementing or casing gas wells, is bad enough to warrant major concern and action. It hugely impacts families who live in affected properties, even without fracking fluids returning from depth.  It can make homes worthless and causes severe emotional and psychological distress.

As a result of its investigation, DEP ordered some Cabot gas wells to be plugged and others repaired. This cost Cabot millions of dollars and also affected royalty payments to landowners. DEP also suspended issuing drilling permits to Cabot statewide for a period and prohibited Cabot from drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the affected Dimock area at least through January, 2011 when I left office.

In 2010, DEP also imposed fines on Cabot totalling more than $1 million, and required escrow accounts totaling $4.1 million be funded by Cabot for 18 families whose water it had contaminated. The escrow accounts were a "Plan B," made necessary by the election of Governor Corbett who made it clear that he would regulate the gas drilling industry in a very different manner than I had.

Began by me, a separate attempt to build a $12 million water line to serve the 18 families was made impossible by Governor Corbett's election victory in November, 2010.  Elections have consequences.

By December 2010, DEP regular testing showed that the efforts to stop the methane migrating from Cabot gas wells had reduced methane levels below action levels in 14 of 18 water wells.

Subsequent extensive water testing by EPA in 2011 to 2012 also found that no fracking fluids were returning from depth to contaminate water wells in Dimock, though the EPA did not do the extensive testing DEP did of methane found in water wells. The DEP investigation of methane included isotopic testing as well as inspections of gas wells and their performance.

No comments:

Post a Comment