Did the EPA ignore their own sampling criteria and cry wolf about Pavillion Oil Field contamination?

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From the Casper Star-Tribune (Jeremy Fugleberg):

The testers zipped the bottles tightly in clear plastic bags, surrounded them with ice in two small coolers, and shipped them overnight to the agency’s laboratory in Golden, Colo., for analysis.

There, the samples waited as the deadline neared for them to be accurately tested. By the time the samples were tested, the EPA-mandated hold times had come and gone.

“Maintenance of the laboratory floor” caused the hold, according to the EPA’s lab data report on the April 2011 samples.

The overdue analysis of those samples was part of the data that underpinned the EPA’s eventual conclusions, released in a draft report in early December. The agency’s key conclusion: Natural gas wells in the area, most developed using hydraulic fracturing, might have harmed groundwater.

The report was quickly slammed by the oil and gas industry but trumpeted by environmental groups. Yet the EPA’s own data — including details not mentioned in the draft report — indicates the agency’s conclusions are partially based on improperly analyzed samples from six private drinking-water wells and two EPA-drilled deep monitoring wells in Pavillion.

The EPA also found contamination in pure water control samples, didn’t purge the test wells properly before gathering samples and didn’t mention in its report whether it tested water carried by a truck used in well drilling, say officials with the Wyoming Water Development Commission who, because of their expertise on water wells, reviewed the EPA’s publicly available information…

“EPA’s analysis is that the best explanation for the chemical signature seen in monitoring wells is the release of hydraulic fracturing fluids into the aquifer above the production zone,” said EPA spokesman Rich Mylott in an email. “Hydraulic fracturing fluids were injected directly into the deeper part of the aquifer. The synthetic substances found in monitoring wells are known to be used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, are not naturally occurring, and many of them were used in the Pavillion field.”

Substances found in the samples from the monitoring wells — including acetone, tert-butyl alcohol, trimethylbenzenes and glycols — weren’t from materials used by the EPA in constructing the wells, Mylott said.

Here’s a guest column, penned by Donovan Schafer (The Independence Institute), that is running in the Summit Daily News. From the article:

The Wyoming report found contamination in two deep monitoring wells that were drilled specifically to detect contamination. But in addition to these wells, the EPA tested 51 domestic wells (the wells people actually use), and not a single one of these wells showed any signs of contamination that could be linked to fracking.

Strangely, this information is not made clear in the EPA report. Instead, it is buried in the lab data. There are literally thousands of “ND” (Not Detected) entries for every imaginable compound and chemical that the EPA thought it could link to fracking. Yet these results, for all 51 domestic wells, are not discussed or presented anywhere in the EPA’s sensation-seeking report.

While the deep monitoring wells do appear to link fracking to groundwater contamination, they do not link fracking to drinking water contamination. It’s misleading when the EPA report says that an Underground Source of Drinking Water (“USDW”) was contaminated, because the EPA’s definition of USDWs is so ambiguous that the entire 3,000-foot-thick Wind River Formation (the one beneath Pavillion) is lumped into a single USDW, even though it has more than 30 separate freshwater zones…

Geologically speaking, the ground beneath Pavillion is a mess. Most regions have multiple clay-rich layers that spread uniformly throughout the area and act as impenetrable barriers between fracking and groundwater. Pavillion has none of these layers, and therefore represents a worst case scenario by which we can test the safety of fracking. As the 51 domestic wells show, fracking does indeed pass this test.

Meanwhile, Sara Castellanos catches us up on opposition to hydraulic fracturing in Aurora in this article from The Aurora Sentinel. Here’s an excerpt:

With a Texas oil company planning to drill several dozen wells near some swank subdivisions on Aurora’s northeastern edge, local lawmakers have organized town hall meetings to educate the public about what they should expect…

Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. applied in August to drill up to 36 wells in a 30-square-mile patch of land near Aurora’s eastern edge. The area stretches from Gun Club Road east to Watkins Road and from East Yale Avenue north to East Colfax Avenue. Anadarko also hopes to drill as many as 24 other wells around rural Arapahoe County. Arapahoe County is set to finalize its own regulations concerning oil and gas drilling – which mostly mirror state laws – on Jan. 3.

More coverage from the Mountain Valley News (Lindy J. Gwinn)

Brad Robinson, President of Gunnison Energy Corporation said, “I have been a proponent of disclosing frac ingredients for years. GEC has listed, or at least described them, on our website for years as well.”

He went on to say, “Most folks don’t understand the industry is really made up of several different industries. The companies like GEC who drill, complete and then produce oil and gas wells generally favor disclosure. However, the service companies like Halliburton, Calfrack, BJ, and Baker Hughes etcetera, who provide drilling mud, frac fluids, and completion services generally do not like to disclose. This is because they spend millions of dollars developing new drilling techniques and ingredients and don’t want to give competitors information on their new products so that other companies can copy them.”

According to Lee Fyock, also from GEC, “The general feeling when we were all at the table talking about these new fracing regulations is that we understand people’s concerns and want to find a way to relieve those concerns. Producers are glad to have the disclosure in place.”

Here’s a twenty minute radio show about Front Range hydraulic fracturing from Marketplace Sustainability (Kirk Siegler).

Finally, here’s a report from Mireya Navarro writing for The New York Times. From the article:

But conventional vertical and horizontal drilling has its safety issues as well. In Chemung County, where gas companies have been drilling in the Trenton Black River rock formation, a group of 15 residents filed a lawsuit last winter against Anschutz Exploration, a company based in Colorado, over drilling operations at two gas wells that they claim contaminated their drinking water.

The law firm shepherding that suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Elmira, N.Y., is Napoli Bern Ripka, which recently won a settlement of nearly $700 million with the City of New York and its contractors on behalf of more than 10,000 workers saying that they developed respiratory illnesses as a result of their rescue and recovery work at ground zero after 9/11. One of the lawyers, Marc J. Bern, said that the firm has cases pending over natural gas drilling operations in Pennsylvania, Colorado, West Virginia and now New York.

Mr. Bern said he doesn’t take sides in the debate over whether hydrofracking should be allowed — he just argues that “it can be done in a much better way.”

“The industry itself believes that things can be done safer, but they want to do it in the most expeditious and cheapest way and deal with the environmental costs and the contamination later,” he said.

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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