Fracking company Encana suspected of contaminating ground water at Pavillion Wyoming, takes control of investigation, EPA refuses to finalize study blaming fracking for water pollution

EPA’s Abandoned Wyoming Fracking Study One Retreat of Many by Abrahm Lustgarten, July 3. 2013, ProPublica
Over the past 15 months…the EPA has:
· Closed an investigation into groundwater pollution in Dimock, Pa., saying the level of contamination was below federal safety triggers.
· Abandoned its claim that a driller in Parker County, Texas, was responsible for methane gas bubbling up in residents’ faucets, even though a geologist hired by the agency confirmed this finding.

· Sharply revised downward a 2010 estimate showing that leaking gas from wells and pipelines was contributing to climate change, crediting better pollution controls by the drilling industry even as other reports indicate the leaks may be larger than previously thought.
· Failed to enforce a statutory ban on using diesel fuel in fracking.

The EPA says that the string of decisions is not related, and the Pavillion matter will be resolved more quickly by state officials. The agency has maintained publicly that it remains committed to an ongoing national study of hydraulic fracturing, which it says will draw the definitive line on fracking’s risks to water. In private conversations, however, high-ranking agency officials acknowledge that fierce pressure from the drilling industry and its powerful allies on Capitol Hill – as well as financial constraints and a delicate policy balance sought by the White House — is squelching their ability to scrutinize not only the effects of oil and gas drilling, but other environmental protections as well. Last year, the agency’s budget was sliced 17 percent, to below 1998 levels. Sequestration forced further cuts, making research initiatives like the one in Pavillion harder to fund. [Emphasis added]

With new fracking study, Pavillion landowners must wait another year by Adam Voge, June 22, 2013, Star-Tribune
Landowners near Pavillion walked into a meeting with state officials late Thursday afternoon. The meeting in Riverton was scheduled for 3 p.m. Many didn’t know what to expect. Around the same time, members of the media were learning what the landowners would would shortly hear: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it would drop its investigation into groundwater near their homes, turning it over to Wyoming state agencies for further study. … “It seems like we’ve been cut completely out of the mix again,” said John Fenton, a local landowner and outspoken member of groups such as Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens and Powder River Basin Resource Council. … Jeff Locker, who lives near Fenton, made similar comments. “Of course I’m very frustrated,” Locker said. “Officially, the landowners initiated the investigation with the EPA, and we’ve been part of the process all the way through. I feel totally thrown out of the loop.” Locker said he hopes landowners will be given a place in the ongoing discussion. “My wife and I have been impacted for probably 15 years or better,” he said.

Others were pleased with the decision. John Martin, another landowner present at the meeting, said Gov. Matt Mead and the state made the right move. “I got my property back in a very real way yesterday,” Martin said Friday. “It’s no longer held hostage by this garbage.” … MacKay added that the state continues to work toward providing cisterns for Pavillion-area residents whose water is undrinkable. The state expects to install 20 this summer, and Mead plans to work with residents to determine the best way to deliver water to homes. Landowner water quality concerns dating back half a decade and longer first prompted the EPA to explore the area. In December 2011, the agency released a report tentatively linking hydraulic fracturing from nearby natural gas operations to groundwater contamination in the area. But many industry and some state officials called for more study and questioned the EPA’s methods. The agency soon agreed to another round of testing, data from which was released in fall 2012. The agency delayed a public comment period until January 2013, and then until September, further riling those in search of an end to the dispute. Adding another year — until September 2014, when the newly announced state investigative report is due — wasn’t a welcome development to some landowners. “The people are still suffering out here,” landowner Louis Meeks said. “We need something done. It’s going to delay it more and delay it more.”

But despite the reactions of some, not all Pavillion-area residents are dismayed by the EPA’s decision. Another landowner, Vince Dolbow, said he’s glad the EPA will allow Wyoming to complete the study. “I’m very tickled with it,” he said. “I think it’s great.” Dolbow said there’s been gas in the ground near Pavillion for years, and called the investigation a “witch hunt.” He added that the EPA’s 2011 draft report — in which the agency tentatively linked natural gas development to water contamination — was “crude” and drew “obnoxious conclusions.”

“We’re letting the EPA save face and back out of it a little bit,” he said. “What they came out with couldn’t be defended in an eighth-grade science class.” A call to one other nearby landowner who’s told the Star-Tribune he doesn’t believe natural gas operations caused the water problems wasn’t returned Friday.  Some said that they view the state’s decision to take over the investigation as a fatal blow. “It’s very, very frustrating,” Fenton said, adding that he has doubts about whether the state’s released testing plan was detailed enough. “Instead of giving us confidence in our state government, it does the opposite.” Fenton expressed concerns about health and land values in the wake of the ongoing investigation. Dolbow, on the other hand, said the state program to provide water cisterns for those in need has helped his land value. Fenton said he only plans to work harder for a resolution. “All this has done is strengthen my resolve,” he said. “I just have to work harder.”

EPA refuses to finalize study blaming fracking for water pollution by, June 21, 2013
The US Environmental Protection Agency has dropped its plans to further investigate whether or not fracking led to the contamination of a Wyoming aquifer, and the agency no longer plans to write a report on the matter. The EPA in 2011 released a draft report, which revealed that hydraulic fracturing fluids used at a shale gas drilling site had likely contaminated groundwater in Pavillion, Wyoming. Oil and gas companies have long argued that fracking poses no water contamination risks, but the EPA’s results demonstrated otherwise.  Critics of the findings, including Wyoming state officials and drilling advocates, argued that the EPA conducted a poor and inaccurate study, which could ultimately harm the industry. Despite the initial wave of criticism in 2011, EPA officials planned to resume the study and continue making assessments regarding the influence of fracking on groundwater. But the EPA on Thursday abandoned those plans, announcing that state officials will instead take over the investigation into Pavillion’s water pollution and draw up a conclusion in 2014. “We think this is the most pragmatic, quickest way to help the residents of Pavillion. We’re going to work hand in hand with the state to make sure this investigation moves forward,” EPA spokesman Tom Reynolds announced in Washington, D.C. Wyoming will receive a $1.5 million grant from Encana Corp.’s US oil and gas subsidiary, which owns the Pavillion gas field in question. The state plans to issue a final report about its findings in late 2014. Industry officials and drilling proponents have praised the decision to hand over responsibility of the study to Wyoming state officials. “EPA has to do a better job, because another fatally flawed water study could have a big impact on how the nation develops its massive energy resources,” Erik Milito, from the Washington, D.C.-based American Petroleum Institute, said in a news release. “The EPA has been on a witch hunt to shut down hydraulic fracturing,” Sen. David Vitter, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, told Reuters.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said in a news release that letting state officials run the investigation is “in everyone’s best interest”, since it would lead to “an unbiased, scientifically supportable conclusion.” But Mead, a known advocate of drilling, has made no attempt to hide his own biases. Last September, Mead asked the Interior Department to abandon fracking rules, claiming that it was unnecessary to request companies to disclose the chemicals they inject down well bores. He has long opposed having any federal fracking rules, and urges lawmakers to let states make their own decisions. And the Native Americans who live around the fracking site may not even take part in the study, despite the fact that contaminated groundwater has the greatest impact on their tribe. The Northern Arapaho Tribe, which lives on a reservation surrounding Pavillion, has long sought to maintain a role in the investigation. But a tribal official told AP that the EPA has stopped consulting with the community. “They have a legal duty to consult with the tribe and that didn’t happen as part of their dialogue with the governor,” Ronald Oldman, co-chairman of the tribe’s business council, said in a statement.

It is unclear why the EPA abandoned the study….

Fracking company Encana suspected of contaminating ground water, takes control of investigation by Associated Press, June 21, 2013,
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – Some Wyoming residents say they were cut out of a deal that has the state government taking over further study of tainted drinking water in their area from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA theorized in 2011 the petroleum industry practice of hydraulic fracturing may have contaminated the groundwater near the town of Pavillion. The EPA now says it won’t finish or have outside experts review the research. Wyoming officials announced Thursday the state will take over the study with help from $1.5 million from Encana Corp., the same company that owns the Pavillion gas field. Environmentalists and the Northern Arapaho Tribe call that a conflict of interest. Gov. Matt Mead’s spokesman says he wasn’t prepared to comment. An Encana spokesman says the funding helps ensure the research continues. [Emphasis added]

WY Groups Call Foul as EPA Hands Fracking Groundwater Contamination Investigation Over to State by Ecowatch, June 21, 2013
Pavillion-area citizens, landowners and environmental groups today condemned Gov. Mead’s (R-WY) announcement that the state is assuming control from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the investigation into groundwater contamination by fracking-enabled oil and gas development near Pavillion, WY. In the announcement, the Governor congratulated EPA and Encana—the company operating in the Pavillion area—for working with him to “chart a positive course” for the investigation. “We went to the EPA for help after the State of Wyoming and Encana refused to address the public health impacts of unbridled development in the Pavillion area,” said Pavillion farmer John Fenton. “Now Encana has bought its way back in and is working with the state on a strategy to cover up the mess they’ve created.” “Our government’s priority is clearly to protect industry rather than Wyoming citizens, our health and our property values. Gov. Mead, the Obama administration and Encana have decided what is best for our community without consulting us,” Fenton continued. “We were presented with Mead’s vague plan at the same time it was released to the public. Unlike the other stakeholders, we bear the brunt of living in the toxic mess that has become our community, but our input has been thrown out with EPA’s investigation. This is a sad day for our country.”

This decision continues a nationwide pattern of Obama Administration walkbacks of the EPA investigations whose preliminary results indicate fracking-enabled oil and gas development presents real risks to public health and water. Similar actions have occurred in Parker County, TX, and Dimock, PA. “It seems clear that the White House’s ‘all of the above’ energy policy means fracking’s impacts on communities are being ignored,” said Earthworks‘ energy program director Bruce Baizel. “All across the country, whether it’s Wyoming, or Texas or Pennsylvania, it appears the EPA is being politically pressured to back off sound science that shows fracking-enabled oil and gas development is a risk to public health. With these decisions, the Obama administration is creating more opposition to fracking, not less.” Pavillion, WY, resident Louis Meeks’ well water contains methane gas, hydrocarbons, lead and copper, according to the EPA’s test results. When he drilled a new water well, it also showed contaminants. The drilling company Encana is supplying Meeks with drinking water.

“Gov. Mead said earlier this week that change should be driven by elected officials and agencies, not the people,” said Don Nelson, a farmer and rancher near Keene in western North Dakota, on behalf of theWestern Organization of Resource Councils. “This attitude is exactly why those of us who have to live with drilling and fracking have so little confidence in our regulatory agencies and elected officials. They only listen to the oil and gas industry, not to the local people. The same is true in North Dakota. And now EPA is backing down too and another investigation into groundwater contamination from oil and gas development is being swept under the rug. Why would anyone believe the oil and gas industry or the state regulatory agencies when they say drilling and fracking are safe?” Governor Mead’s announcement indicates that the state would cease peer review of EPA’s investigation, essentially ignoring it. “The state of Wyoming is already on record, through action and inaction, as denying that Pavillion’s groundwater contamination is a cause for concern,” said area ag-producer Jeff Locker. “They are throwing out a conscientious science based study by EPA that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. The Governor’s plan postpones any conclusions for at least another year. It’s hard to believe that they’re trying to get to the bottom of the problem, they’re hoping this whole thing just goes away.” [Emphasis added]

EPA abandons study that linked fracking, Wyoming water pollution by Ben Geman, June 20, 2013, E2 Wire, The Hill
The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that it won’t finalize a draft 2011 study that concluded water pollution in a Wyoming region might stem from hydraulic fracturing, the controversial oil-and-gas development method. The decision to abandon the probe quickly buoyed gas industry advocates of the method dubbed “fracking,” who say it’s a safe practice. The EPA said it will not complete or seek peer review of a 2011 draft study, which found that groundwater pollution in the Pavillion, Wyo., area was consistent with chemicals used in gas production. The EPA said it stands by its work but that it would now support further study led by the state of Wyoming. “While EPA stands behind its work and data, the agency recognizes the State of Wyoming’s commitment for further investigation and efforts to provide clean water and does not plan to finalize or seek peer review of its draft Pavillion groundwater report released in December, 2011,” the EPA said as part of a joint release with the state of Wyoming. “Nor does the agency plan to rely upon the conclusions in the draft report,” the EPA said. The EPA, in a 2011 summary of its draft findings, had said its investigation “indicates that ground water in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.” The agency had also said in 2011 that the presence of certain chemicals in drinking water wells was “consistent with migration from areas of gas production.”

But Wyoming state officials and industry officials have criticized the EPA’s draft report that linked pollution to fracking, notes The Associated Press, which broke the news of the agency’s decision not to finalize its study. Steve Everley, a spokesman for the industry group Energy In Depth, said EPA’s decision “says pretty clearly that the agency is finally acknowledging the severity of the report’s flaws, and leaning once again on the expertise of state regulators.” But the environmental group Food & Water Watch lamented the EPA’s decision to abandon its Pavillion investigation, alleging the agency is “abdicating its responsibility.” “If there is any question whatsoever about the safety of fracking and its effects on drinking water supplies, the EPA should make it a top priority to investigate the matter fully,” said Wenonah Hauter, the group’s executive director. The EPA, for its part, is in the midst of a separate and far more wide-ranging study on the relationship between fracking and drinking water in various regions of the country, which it plans to release in draft form in late 2014. But it’s stepping away from the Pavillion probe. “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,” Acting EPA Administrator Robert Perciasepe said in a statement. Two Wyoming agencies — the Department of Environmental Quality and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission — will “lead the scientific investigation” and “seek to address water quality concerns by evaluating the water quality of certain domestic water wells, the integrity of certain oil and gas wells, and historic pits in the Pavillion area,” the release states. However, the sampling data from the EPA’s now-abandoned investigation will be considered in Wyoming’s probe, the announcement states. [Emphasis added]

The EPA Is Dropping Its Lead Role In A Landmark Fracking Study by Rob Wile, June 20, 2013, Businessinsider
The EPA will cede authority to Wyoming regulators in a landmark investigation to determine whether hydraulic fracturing contaminated groundwater, according to a release from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead. In December 2011, the EPA found chemicals in the groundwater near Pavillion, Wyo. that were “consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels.” We wrote about the case in October, when the EPA said new USGS data confirmed those findings. Shortly thereafter, we talked to Pavillion-area residents who explained how local hydrocarbon deposits were extremely shallow and that they’d long accepted that their water had an usual taste. Last month, we rounded up instances around the country where regulators had been effectively bullied into easing up on fracking investigations, though there is no evidence that has occurred in this instance.  The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC) will now lead the Pavillion effort, the governor’s release said. “I commend the EPA and Encana for working with me to chart a positive course for this investigation,” Mead said. “I commit that Wyoming will work in a thoughtful and productive manner as further investigation is initiated.” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

Contamination of North America’s Groundwater from Fracking (Hydraulic Fracturing) Revealed in a New Case History Catalogue Press Release by BC Tap Water Alliance, June 16, 2013

RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] bombed oil site in ‘dirty tricks’ campaign by CBC News, November 10, 2000
The Mounties bombed an oil installation as part of a dirty tricks campaign in their investigation into sabotage in the Alberta’s oil patch. The revelation came at the bail hearing Thursday of two farmers who the Crown says have turned their complaints that oil industry pollution is making their families ill into acts of vandalism and mischief. Their lawyer produced evidence that the RCMP bombed a wellsite and that they did it with the full support of the energy company [now Encana] that owned it. The Crown admits the allegations are true. … Lawyer Richard Secord told Court of Queen’s Bench that when Alberta Energy Co. [AEC, now Encana] and police blew up an AEC shed last Oct. 14, they blamed it on his client, farmer Wiebo Ludwig.

Failure Investigation Report by the BC OGC: Failure of Piping at EnCana Swan Wellsite A5-7-77-14 L W6M

EnCana Corporation facing criminal charges 

$250,000 in community safety projects following Encana deadly sour gas leak ]

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