EPA’s “own science advisers” criticize agency study’s conclusion drinking water is safe from fracking

EPA scientists criticize agency study’s conclusion drinking water is safe from fracking by Bloomberg News, January 7, 2016, Calgary Herald

A landmark study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that concluded fracking causes no widespread harm to drinking water is coming under fire — this time, from the agency’s own science advisers.

The EPA’s preliminary findings released in June were seen as a vindication of the method used to unlock oil and gas from dense underground rock. A repudiation of the results could reignite the debate over the need for more regulation.

Members of the EPA Science Advisory Board, which reviews major studies by the agency, says the main conclusion — that there’s no evidence fracking has led to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water” — requires clarification, said David Dzombak, a Carnegie Mellon University environmental engineering professor leading the review, via email. The panel Dzombak heads will release its initial recommendations later this month.

“Major findings are ambiguous or are inconsistent with the observations/data presented in the body of the report,” the 31 scientists on the panel said in December, in a response to the study.

The scientific panel’s recommendations aren’t binding and the EPA is not required to change its findings to accommodate them. But they already are raising questions about the most comprehensive assessment yet of a practice that has driven a domestic oil and gas boom but also spawned complaints about water contamination.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency will use comments from the scientists and the public to “evaluate” possible changes to the report.

Peer Review

Robust peer review by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, established by Congress in 1978, is designed to ensure the integrity of scientific reports, agency spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said in an email.

She said the agency will use the comments from the advisory panel, as well as those submitted by the public, “to evaluate how to augment and revise the draft assessment.”

“The final assessment will also reflect relevant literature published since the release of the draft assessment,” she said.

[Harmed citizens, communities and groups] want the final document to include more information about alleged contamination near drilling sites in Dimock, Penn; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyo. Those episodes “show how out of step the conclusion is with the body of the report,” Clean Water Action oil and gas campaigner John Noel said in an interview.

The scientific review panel seems intent on suggesting changes — at one point floating the idea of “explicit” descriptions of what happened in Dimock, Parker County and Pavillion.

2016 01 Ezra Levant in Fracking Flame trailer

The Fracking Flame Trailer – 2016 HD Documentary

Senator’s Input

Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality said in a report last month that there is a “negligible” likelihood that fracking was to blame for any water contamination in Pavillion. Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, said Wyoming’s report supports EPA’s broad national conclusions last year. [Is that because Encana took over the investigation with a $1.5 Million “bribe” to pay for the state taking over the investigation and making sure it goes nowhere near Encana? Encana frac’d directly into drinking water aquifers at Pavillion just like it did at Rosebud, but at Rosebud Encana frac’d insanely more shallow]

“It is inexplicable why the Science Advisory Board has encouraged EPA to incorporate their three discredited studies into the agency’s final water study,” Inhofe said in a statement on Thursday. “It is irresponsible and a purposeful interjection of bad science in order to distort the factual narrative.”

The review panel could ask EPA to rescind its top-line finding altogether or clarify it by asserting that the lack of widespread, systemic impacts from fracking is relative to the number of wells drilled.

When one of the panelists –- University of California engineering professor Thomas Young –- suggested such a rewrite during three days of meetings last October, the group broke out in spontaneous applause.

‘Science Settled’

Industry lobbyists and trade groups are working to tamp down the panel’s criticism, with American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard casting it as the work of determined environmental activists opposed to fossil fuels.

“The science should be settled,” Gerard told reporters at a news conference Tuesday. “There are a handful of people who are not happy with the outcome, and they continue to drive their agenda based on ideology, not based on the science.”

The API and the Independent Petroleum Association of America delivered a similar message in separate letters to the EPA.

Scott Segal, head of the policy resolution group at Bracewell & Giuliani in Washington, and a lobbyist who represents Range Resources Corp. and other energy companies, said in an interview that the review board should disregard “anecdotal evidence presented by litigants in active cases.” [The ungagged cases are the most important!] By contrast, he added, “the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence is on the side of the regulated community.”

Spill Data

Several of the EPA’s science advisers reviewing the fracking report said the evidence doesn’t support the conclusion about water safety.

Spill data alone “gives sufficient pause to reconsider the statement” that there’s no evidence of systemic, widespread damage, said panelist Bruce Honeyman, professor emeritus at the Colorado School of Mines.

“It’s important to characterize and discuss the frequency and severity of outliers that have occurred,” said panelist Katherine Bennett Ensor, chairwoman of the Rice University Department of Statistics.

And panel member James Bruckner, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Georgia, said the report glosses over the limited data and studies available to the agency.

“I do not think that the document’s authors have gone far enough to emphasize how preliminary these key conclusions are and how limited the factual bases are for their judgments,” Bruckner said.

Young, the University of California professor who suggested rewriting the top-line conclusion, faulted the document for trying “to draw a global and permanent conclusion about the safety or impacts of hydraulic fracturing at the national level” given the “uncertainties and data limitations described in the report.” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

2015 12 27: The Ultimate Frac Fraud? In EPA Draft Frac Report: “700 pages (24,000 lines) presenting the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water resources and human health but only 2 lines concluding that it is not a universal problem”

2015 06 08: US Federal Report Confirms Water Pollution by Fracking, Based on limited data, EPA study finds no ‘widespread’ impacts by Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee

Despite being limited by data gaps, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that hydraulic fracturing technology has polluted ground and surface water in cases ranging from Alberta to Pennsylvania.

… While the report found that fracking has not led to “widespread” water pollution across the U.S., it does debunk claims that the technology has never contaminated groundwater or that industry never fracks directly into drinking water aquifers.

The EPA’s first study on the technology, “Evaluation of Impacts to Underground Sources of Drinking Water by Hydraulic Fracturing of Coalbed Methane Reservoirs,” found that fracking was safe and largely reflected the views of the George W. Bush administration.

The report was a government response to complaints and legal challenges related to the impacts of shallow fracking of coal formations across the U.S. — the precursor to the shale gas revolution.

Despite extensive evidence of methane migration into groundwater in Colorado, West Virginia and Alabama, the agency concluded in its 2004 report that “the injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into coalbed methane wells poses little or no threat” to drinking water and “does not justify additional study at this time.”

At the same time the report noted that the coalbed methane industry had not only, in 10 out of 11 coal basins, fracked coal seams containing drinking water, but had done so with toxic fracking fluids, such as diesel fuel.

To address these problems, the EPA championed a voluntary and unenforceable offer by three major fracking companies to stop using diesel fuel. Diesel fuel remains a key fracking ingredient in parts of the U.S. and Canada, particularly in Alberta.

The seven-member peer review panel that signed off on the report included many industry representatives. Not one groundwater or contamination expert was included in the panel.

“Some hydraulic fracturing operations are conducted within formations that contain drinking water resources,” the report found.

“In one field in Alberta, Canada, there is evidence that fracturing in the same formation as a drinking water resource (in combination with well integrity problems… led to gas migration into water wells.”

The previous Tory government of Alberta long maintained that “there has not been a single documented case of hydraulic fracturing fluids contaminating a domestic water well in Alberta.”

The government of British Columbia has made a similar claim: “In the five decades that hydraulic fracturing has been used in British Columbia, no case of drinking water contamination has occurred from the hydraulic fracturing process.” ...

Hampered by data gaps

The extensive EPA study, which had been delayed for years, reported that fracking operations, which also generate vast volumes of wastewater including radioactive particles, can contaminate groundwater and surface water in a number of ways.

Operations above ground can typically spill hydraulic fracturing fluids, chemicals and salty wastewater into ground and surface waters.

Underground fracking operations have propelled fluids and gases out of the targeted fracture areas “into underground drinking water resources,” often through pre-existing fractures and pathways such as nearby abandoned or leaky wells, the report found.

The EPA reported that fracking had contaminated 25 per cent of 36 water wells in northeastern Pennsylvania, though the agency “did not find mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

In contrast, state agencies in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia have reported myriad problems, including hundreds of complaints about groundwater contamination due to fracking.

Between 2011 and 2014, industry fracked between 25,000 and 30,000 wells in both deep and shallow formations for oil and gas in the U.S.

The EPA qualified its central finding — that water contamination is real but not severe — by explaining that its investigation was hampered by significant scientific gaps, including insufficient baseline data on quality of drinking water resources prior to fracking; poor or non-existent groundwater monitoring; and in some cases inaccessible data on well locations, as well as chemicals used by industry.

A number of cases couldn’t be included in the report due to the signing of confidentiality agreements, it said: “Data limitations in most of those cases (including the unavailability of information in litigation settlements resulting in sealed documents) make it impossible to definitively assess whether or not hydraulic fracturing was a cause of the contamination in these cases.”

Information on the thousand-plus chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing, for example, “is not complete and limits the understanding of potential impacts on drinking water resources,” the report said.

The report reviewed five specific contamination cases that showed how “construction issues, sustained casing pressure, and the presence of natural faults and fractures can work together to create pathways for fluids to migrate toward drinking water resources.”

In North Dakota, a rupture at one fracking site allowed fluids to escape to the surface. In short order, brine and tert-butyl alcohol “were detected in two nearby water wells.” [The same alcohol was found in Ernst’s water after Encana illegally fractured directly into the aquifers that supply her well and the community of Rosebud]

In Colorado, the EPA found that bad cement jobs “allowed methane and benzene to migrate along the production well and through natural faults and fractures to drinking water in the Mamm Creek Field.”

And in Bainbridge, Ohio, “inadequately cemented casing in a hydraulically fractured well contributed to the buildup of natural gas and high pressures along the outside of a production well. This ultimately resulted in the movement of natural gas into local drinking water aquifers.”

Contamination spreads, expert warns

… Yet the report details several cases where the EPA investigated contamination reports directly after fracking operations and found big problems.

Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell fracking expert and a member of PSE Healthy Energy, a group that favours severely limiting fracking for health and economic reasons, found the report’s confirmation of groundwater contamination “deeply alarming.”

“Headlines to the effect that this contamination appears not yet ‘widespread’ are hardly reassuring,” added Ingraffea. “Contamination of a single drinking water well today can become contamination of an entire aquifer tomorrow.”

One of the weaknesses of the new EPA study, Ingraffea said, is that it doesn’t include state enforcement data as well as “studies and agency data that are highly relevant to the impacts of hydraulic fracturing activities on drinking water resources.” [Emphasis added]

A few of the comments:

annie_fiftyseven disqus_Wf91wKMTsJ • 7 months ago
“As long as there’s no distinction (or studies demonstrating the differences) between vertical and horizontal fracking,

… When it is demonstrated that horizontal fracking is causing untold water contamination problems,”

There’s little difference between horizontal and vertical when companies are KNOWINGLY AND INTENTIONALLY FRAC’ING DIRECTLY INTO FRESH WATER SOURCES, and contaminating community water supplies.

It’s all the same in the end, including the corruption and cover-up by regulators and governments, and gag-orders by the companies.

Lou disqus_Wf91wKMTsJ • 7 months ago


WillKoop • 7 months ago
From the late 1980s to 2004 with the onset of the first EPA draft report, industry kept up the Big Lie. Then came the Halliburton Loophole, to allow industry to contaminate US water sources. The Big Lie continued. Now, the Big Lie changes to “Not Widespread.” Wow, what spindoctors!

What is “widespread” is the corruption in the US and Canada, between companies freely operating in both jurisdictions. It’s about time that federal and state governments ‘open up the books,’ you know, all those Gag Orders in both countries. How many are there anyway? (Didn’t the New York Times try to find out this question a couple of years ago, before they stopped reporting on all this stuff?) Let’s just see how “widespread” the water (and whatever other) contamination is when we get a hold of all that darkness!

And, what about the contamination cases that the EPA has overlooked in its recent draft … Dimock, Pavillion, etc.

Here, in Canada, well we have the Council of Canadian Academies’ national report on fracking, the one chaired by John Cherry. Turns out the professional Council failed to conduct a proper audit of the peer-reviewed literature on the harms from fracking up to May 2014 (see March 10, 2015 media release by the BC Tap Water Alliance www.bctwa.org). And, since Cherry’s report was published there have been almost 150 more peer-reviewed reports published.

Here’s a question for everybody. This Alberta contamination case reported by the EPA as mentioned in the article above … is this by any chance the alleged contamination of the Rosebud aquifers by EnCana, you know, the Ernst case, the most important case on fracking in Canada, making its way through the Courts … for how long now? You know, the same company also operating in the US allegedly having contaminated Pavillion’s groundwater, you know, all that incriminating data mysteriously sidelined by the EPA?

annie_fiftyseven WillKoop • 7 months ago
“And, what about the contamination cases that the EPA has overlooked in its recent draft … Dimock, Pavillion, etc.”

Yeah isn’t that sick? They know companies are intentionally frac’ing the freshwater sources (specifically in Pavillion) yet sure enough, the dirty details have been “overlooked.”

From the EPA’s report:

“The practice of injecting fracturing fluids into a formation that also contains a drinking water resource directly affects the quality of that water, since it is likely some of that fluid remains in the formation following hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing in a drinking water resource may be of concern in the short-term (where people are currently using these zones as a drinking water supply) or the long-term (if drought or other conditions necessitate the future use of these zones for drinking water).

… Some hydraulic fracturing operations are conducted within formations that contain drinking water resources (see Table 6-2).

One example of hydraulic fracturing taking place within a geologic formation that is also used as a drinking water source is in the Wind River Basin in Wyoming (WYOGCC, 2014; Wright et al., 2012).

… The Wind River Formation also serves as the principal source of domestic, municipal, and agricultural water in this rural area.”

Everybody’s water in that rural area! And the companies do this to it:

“.. The study, however, found that energy companies used acid stimulation, a production method, and hydraulic fracturing in the Wind River and Fort Union geological formations that make up the Pavillion gas field and that contain both natural gas and sources of drinking water.

‘Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and millions of gallons of fluids containing numerous inorganic and organic additives were injected directly into these two formations during hundreds of stimulation events,'”


“This Alberta contamination case reported by the EPA as mentioned in the article above … is this by any chance the alleged contamination of the Rosebud aquifers by EnCana, you know, the Ernst case, the most important case on fracking in Canada, making its way through the Courts … for how long now? You know, the same company also operating in the US allegedly having contaminated Pavillion’s groundwater, you know, all that incriminating data mysteriously sidelined by the EPA?”

Isn’t that nice of the EPA to give a nod to the Rosebud, Alberta frac contamination? It’s like they drew names out of a hat …

“Here, in Canada, well we have the Council of Canadian Academies’ national report on fracking, the one chaired by John Cherry. Turns out the professional Council failed to conduct a proper audit of the peer-reviewed literature on the harms from fracking up to May 2014 (see March 10, 2015 media release by the BC Tap Water Alliance www.bctwa.org).”

Excellent press release WillKoop. But who needs peer-reviewed literature when they can study Canadians like lab rats – up-close and personal-like, while the industry fracs us to dust over “the anticipated decades-long development periods.”

From the Council of Canadian Academies’ report: “Most research projects conducted in Canada are planned for the relatively short term — five to ten years or less. To address some of the most important questions about shale gas, longer-term research will be needed over the anticipated decades-long development periods and over sufficient time scales following well closure.”

I’ll bet a frac panel member could flog a lot of frac patents in that time period.

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