Fracking a dangerous policy by James E. Robertson, Lakeland, March 25, 2016, The Ledger
Karen Finney, senior spokesperson, “Hillary for America” responded to Jake Trapper’s question, “Does Hillary support fracking?” with a question … “What can she do about it?” The answer is very clear and very simple.
This practice is against the law. The Clean Water Act of 1972 made the introduction of contaminants of any kind to a body of clean water, a violation punishable by fine, imprisonment or both. Beneath the surface of the earth, from 12 feet to thousands of feet deep is a clean body of water which is the primary source of our drinking water throughout the world. This water is trapped within rock, shale and limestone structures which support us.
Fracking is specifically designed to fracture (fracking) this structure in order to access trapped oil and gas. In this process it is inevitable that many of our clean water aquifers will be contaminated by the chemicals being injected under very high pressure, as well as the oil and gas which are no longer separated because the barrier of separation has been fractured.
Every citizen of the America needs to write to your local paper, congressmen and your governor demanding that this practice be ended immediately. It is dangerous, destructive and against the law. What more needs be said? [Emphasis added]
EPA criticizes state fracking study by Benjamin Storrow, March 26, 2016, Casper Star-Tribune
Rhonda Locker hugs her daughter Candis goodbye beside her husband Jeff following a family lunch on Dec. 4, outside the family’s former home in Pavillion where they had lived since 1984. Jeff and Rhonda Locker are suing Encana Corp., alleging the company withheld information about the quality of their water which ultimately led to a deterioration of Rhonda’s health. “I wondered every day if I was killing her by keeping her there,” Jeff said. “It’s been a struggle for her. It’s definitely changed our way of life.”
Wyoming regulators downplayed health concerns, glossed over ambiguities and made unsubstantiated claims about the source of contamination in their study of the polluted drinking water east of Pavillion, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review shows. [With Encana leading the “study” with the funding, what else but fraud can anyone expect from Wyoming regulators?]
Those findings, delivered in comments to the state earlier this month, raised questions over state officials’ contention that natural gas operations are not responsible for pollution found in some water wells outside this central Wyoming community of roughly 230 people.
A draft study released by the state Department of Environmental Quality [but tellingly paid for by Encana] in December concluded hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, likely played little role in polluting water wells in the Pavillion area. It linked contamination in the those wells to naturally occurring pollutants. Methane buildup in landowners’ water was more likely a product of natural seepage from shallow geologic formations than gas production, the state concluded. [Did the Wyoming regulator copy-cat the Alberta Research Council in 2008 blaming nature for the dangerous methane and ethane etc contamination in Rosebud drinking water wells (after Encana directly frac’d the aquifers there – illegally – and after the Alberta regulator secretly edited the Council’s conclusion blaming Encana’s shallow frac for the contamination)?]
The EPA repeatedly questioned those claims in its review of the state study, saying Wyoming investigators lacked the evidence, or relied on limited proof, to make their assertions.
Federal regulators noted the DEQ did not cite any evidence for its claim that small amounts of fracking fluid were used to stimulate the Pavillion field’s gas wells — a central tenant of the state’s argument that the practice was not to blame for the polluted water. [How creative will the regulator frac fraud get to allow companies to continue polluting community drinking water supplies and poisoning innocent families?]
And while state investigators acknowledged a gap in the protective layer encasing many Pavillion gas wells, they failed to examine whether fracking fluids could have escaped through those openings, the EPA found.
“In summary, the data limitations and uncertainties … suggest a need for additional investigation to provide support for many of the report’s conclusions related to fluid movement, gas source and well integrity,” the agency wrote. [Just how many decades of study and investigation do regulators propose the suffering families endure? The evidence is clear: Encana frac’d the drinking water aquifers at Pavillion at depths where citizens get their water from. The EPA found fracing contaminated the water supply, this was affirmed by the USGS investigating the EPA’s investigation. What the EPA needs to publicly disclose, is why they ran from their original investigation]
EPA’s comments came in response to a DEQ report examining the water quality of 13 Pavillion-area drinking wells. The report is one of three produced by the state regarding Pavillion. The others examined well integrity and disposal pits in the area.
A DEQ spokesman said the department had no comment on EPA’s review. Wyoming will issue an official response to comments as part of its official investigative process, said Keith Guille.
“We’re not going to respond through the media,” he said.
State officials have not offered a timeline for when the report will be finalized.
Encana Corp., the Calgary-based firm that operates the Pavillion field, also declined to comment on the EPA’s findings.
The company, in its own review of the state study, called Wyoming’s investigation “a significant, rigorous effort” to better understand the Pavillion field. Encana paid $1.5 million to help finance Wyoming’s study.
Wyoming’s draft report recommends more analysis, particularly to determine how much gas is seeping up along the well bores to shallower geologic formations where water is found. [How can the state not know that yet?! If you do not seek, you do not find.]
But Encana contested that recommendation, saying no further investigation is needed. Pressures found in its gas wells are not sufficient to push gas into water-bearing zones, the company said. [What about the pressure Encana used to frac directly the water aquifer that supplies the area water wells?]
Poor maintenance of water wells in the area is likely responsible for many of the issues, Encana said. [Exactly what the research council (after secret editing by the regulator)/regulators/Encana/politicians said/say about the contamination in all contaminated Rosebud water wells, after Kevin Pilger, lead investigator with the Alberta regulator, fraudulently introduced gopher shit into a citizen’s drinking water well!]
Pavillion has long served as a symbol in the wider national debate over fracking — the practice of injecting water, sand and fluids at high pressure into oil and gas wells to stimulate production.
Residents began complaining to state officials about faulty water in the early 2000s. After the state declined to investigate, it turned to the EPA, which released a preliminary study in 2011 concluding the bad water was linked to fracking.
The agency never finalized its study, however. Its findings were met with fierce opposition from state officials, industry groups and Congressional Republicans. The EPA ultimately dropped the investigation in 2013, turning the inquiry over to Wyoming. A 2015 Star-Tribune investigation found federal officials were worried they could not support their conclusions in the face of sustained opposition to the study.
Public comments on the DEQ’s investigation highlight the lingering uncertainty over the cause of the Pavillion-area’s water issues.
Halliburton Energy Services Inc., a fracking provider, said it agreed with Wyoming’s analysis that fracking fluids did not contribute to Pavillion’s problems. Between 1,000 and 10,000 gallons of frack fluid were used per well interval [how many intervals, and with what pressure?], with 70 percent of the fluid made up of carbon dioxide foam, the company said. [So what? With some frac fluid ingredients, like diesel, it only takes much less than one gallon to contaminate an entire aquifer. Nasty chemicals are used to foam and gel gases used in frac fluids, often including diesel or other petroleum distillates]
Pressure gradients in the Wind River formation underlying the Pavillion field are also more likely to push fracking fluids down, not upward toward water resources, Halliburton said. [Who’s “monitoring” to find out if that’s actually happening, notably after Encana frac’s into the drinking water aquifers? Let’s ask Dr. John Cherry!]
But others lambasted the study. Sue Spencer, a professional geologist from Laramie, said the state inquiry produced vague results because it only relied on water samples from domestic wells. Groundwater monitoring wells are needed to gain a comprehensive understanding of the situation, she said.
“This report represents yet another thinly veiled attempt by the state of Wyoming and industry consultants to attribute the groundwater contamination in the Pavillion area to problems with private water supply wells rather than on improperly constructed gas wells and unlined surface disposal pits,” Spencer wrote. [And what about Encana frac’ing directly into the drinking water aquifers that the contaminated water wells rely on?]
Spencer is working as an expert in a lawsuit brought by a Pavillion family who claim Encana’s operations contaminated their water.
Lisa McClain-Vanderpool, an EPA spokeswoman, said the comments were meant to provide Wyoming with technical input on its study.
“Many of our recommendations suggest that important information gaps be filled to better support conclusions drawn in the report, and that uncertainties and data gaps be discussed in the report,” she said in an email.
The agency said more evidence was needed to bolster state investigators’ contention that much of the gas found in water wells was naturally occurring. [Has Encana coughed up the company’s (including all subcontractors) complete list yet, to the EPA, USGS and Wyoming regulator, of all chemicals injected in all parts of the process – drilling, cementing, perforating, fracing, servicing, re-fracing? Why haven’t the regulators, including the EPA and USGS, not obtained court orders forcing Encana to hand that vital information over, before spending years going nowhere, dragging the harmed citizens through Hell and back?]
In one instance, the DEQ cited a 1951 Bureau of Reclamation report that said a 500-foot water well was destroyed by gas. But that well was 2.5 miles away from the nearest well in the Pavillion study area, the EPA noted. [Oil and gas wells and exploratory wells have been leaking for many decades in North America. How many industry activities were in the area of that water well?]
In another case, the state relied on a publicly unavailable letter from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to support its claim.
“The report concludes that it is ‘almost certain’ that part of the methane observed in the water supply wells in the WDEQ investigation is naturally occurring and not a result of gas production,” EPA wrote in its comments to the state. “This conclusion appears to be based solely on the limited data described above.”
Little historical evidence exists to support the state’s argument that the pollution is naturally occurring, the agency said. A U.S. Geological Survey report identified 20 water wells out of 359 with problems in the wider Pavillion area. Those wells were contaminated by “bad water,” hydrogen sulfide or some combination of sulfur and gas, but none were located inside the study area under review.
Complicating matters further is the fact that comparison values used to gauge health risks don’t exist for nine of the 19 organic constituents identified by the state, the EPA said.
Wyoming regulators had said they found only two instances where chemicals exceeded drinking water standards. One was linked to a pesticide. The other is a common laboratory contaminant.
The state largely cast Pavillion’s water issues as a palatability concern and is suitable to use despite exceeding some safety thresholds. That characterization could leave the report’s readers unclear about the significance of safety exceedances, the EPA said, recommending some discussion of health risks be included in the report.
“Given the number of detected compounds with no (comparative value), uncertainty remains with respect to statements about health risk and suitability, and EPA suggests any such statements be qualified accordingly,” the agency wrote. [Emphasis added]
A few statements from the EPA’s review (“The Report” is the Wyoming State’s report):
The Report’s characterization of the exceedances of standards or comparison values as a palatability concern rather than a health concern may leave readers unclear regarding the significance of these exceedances.
Of the 19 organic constituents identified in domestic wells, nine do not have CVs identified in the Report. This is an information gap that EPA suggests be discussed in the Report as it discloses the limitations to reaching definitive conclusions about potential health risks from drinking the water.
EPA also notes that additional MCL exceedances (i.e. benzene) have been documented in shallow groundwater based on monitoring well data from pits enrolled in Wyoming’s Voluntary Remediation Program (VRP).
The Report concludes that “exceedances of drinking water standards or comparison values are generally limited to naturally occurring dissolved salts, metals and radionuclides” (p. 3), but there is limited supporting evidence demonstrating that all of these constituents were present historically in the area, and that they were present at similar concentrations to those detected. There is limited discussion in the Report that compares ranges of concentrations for the components found in historical data to components and concentrations in the wells studied. Historic data are primarily available for general chemistry parameters, and that data does indicate that the high levels of sodium and sulfate are characteristic regionally for the Wind River formation. However, there is limited or no historic data in the references cited in the Report to document naturally occurring levels of many other inorganic constituents such as arsenic, thallium, lithium and uranium, and the limited data suggest that the values seen in water wells are not consistent with background concentrations. For example, the WSGS Basin Study (WSGS 2012) shows that the median concentration observed in the six wells sampled for uranium was 0.54 ug/L, where the Report indicates that four water wells exceed the much higher value of 30 ug/L (Table 14A). Similarly, the 1995 USGS report on Fremont County water quality (USGS 1995) shows five arsenic samples, four with non-detects and one with 2 ug/L of arsenic, whereas the Report indicates that two of the sampled water wells exceeded the MCL of 10 ug/L. These values do not seem to corroborate that exceedances of inorganics are due to naturally occurring concentrations of these compounds. And there was no data for thallium or lithium in the references, so it is difficult to support a statement about naturally occurring levels with regard to the six wells exceeding the lithium CV and the five wells exceeding the thallium CV.
The Report discusses potential point-of-use treatment options that could be employed by residents, but only for inorganic compounds. Although “problematic water quality constituents” (p. 100) is not defined in the Report, constituents such as petroleum constituents, isopropyl benzene, tert-butyl alcohol, pesticide compounds, naphthalene, 2-butoxyethanol, methane and adamantanes might be considered problematic constituents and are missing from the table. EPA recommends the discussion of treatment options include treatment for organic contaminants present in water supply wells. The presence of both organic and inorganic compounds complicates potential treatment and typically requires multi-step treatment, which may be more costly and more difficult for homeowners to manage and maintain to achieve effective treatment.
The Report generally does not distinguish between free methane and dissolved methane when characterizing analytical results or discussing how dissolved phase and gas phase methane move within the subsurface. Understanding the behavior of methane in the subsurface is critical to the development of a conceptual model for contaminant fate and transport. Free gas can and does migrate through rock strata and liquids as a buoyant fluid. Alternatively, or additionally, dissolved methane would move according to the hydrologic conditions at the site. Methane in the gas phase would naturally migrate upward from deeper reservoirs. However, liquids containing dissolved methane could move according to groundwater flow direction both horizontally and vertically depending on the pressure gradient. For example, dissolved constituents including methane could move upward under an induced pressure drive from a high pressure zone to low pressure zone, as is reflected in some bradenhead pressure measurements or from pressures induced through hydraulic fracturing.
The Report characterizes the Pavillion gas field as a conventional reservoir (p.2). This statement should be modified or explained. Although there is some conventional development elsewhere in the Wind River Basin, Pavillion field development is from Cretaceous-Lower Tertiary tight sands, which is generally considered unconventional (see US Energy Information Administration https://www.eia.gov/oil_gas/rpd/tight_gas.pdf ).
Fluid Migration/Gas Well Integrity
The Report generally concludes gas is present in the shallow Wind River formation as a result of natural upward migration from source rock (though acknowledging that some potential contribution may have come from movement up gas wellbores); that gas was widely present in the shallow subsurface prior to energy development; and that there is negligible likelihood that hydraulic fracturing fluids have migrated upward to depths utilized by water supply wells. All of these conclusions would benefit from additional support.
Widespread historic presence of methane in shallow subsurface
The Report states that gas was widely present in the shallow subsurface prior to gas development (e.g. pp. 2, 77-79). To definitively conclude this one needs to be able to determine what the gas flux was prior to development and the present day flux. Current flux can be determined but it is, as the Report notes, extremely difficult to directly substantiate historical gas flux. There is limited data to support the conclusion that gas was widely present in the shallow subsurface. Reference is made to a 3-page excerpt from a 1951 Bureau of Reclamation annual report, which contains this single statement: “a satisfactory aquifer was found near the 500 foot depth, but potability of the water was destroyed by gas”. The well in question is 2.5 miles from the nearest water supply well study area (PGDW20). The excerpt does not contain or reference any supporting data or information, and there is no indication as to whether the gas was in fact methane, or something else (such as hydrogen sulfide). A USGS report covering the Midvale Irrigation District (a larger area encompassing the Pavillion field) noted the presence of hydrogen sulfide in the area: “The water from well A3-3-6cc, 270 feet deep, had a moderately low mineral content (272 ppm) but was reported unsatisfactory for drinking because of the strong hydrogen sulfide odor and the precipitation of sulfur… Although no gas analyses were made, the problem of hydrogen sulfide in water supplies, particularly in deep wells, was observed for new supplies in other tracts.” (USGS 1959). Within the irrigation project area the USGS report identifies less than 20 water wells out of 359 water well logs that reported either “bad water” (eight well logs), “sulfur water” (nine well logs), or “sulfur water with gas” (two well logs). None of the wells with bad water, sulfur or gas were located within the Pavillion study area. In addition, the report evaluated over 50 water well logs from Township 3 North, Range 2 East which has a large portion of the study area. None of these wells recorded issues with water including no reports of “sulfur water” or “gas” within this area.
[Dr. Alexander Blythe with the Alberta Research Council, the regulators, and Encana fabricated the same make-believe to dismiss the methane in contaminated water wells at Rosebud, pointing to other contaminated water wells elsewhere historically as “proof” without providing any data to substantiate their fabrications, not even the legal land locations of those historically contaminated water wells]
The Report further points to the indication of gas-filled porosity at depths between 600 and 900 feet from three mud logs from gas wells drilled between 1965 and 1973 as evidence of widespread gas at shallower depths (p. 26), and cites EPA’s 2011 Draft Report as the source. EPA was able to locate and review ten mud logs from wells drilled before 1995; the logs did not indicate gas shows within 300 meters of the surface. (EPA 2011).
The final line of evidence referred to as supporting this conclusion is a 2007 letter from WOGCC, which the Report characterizes as stating a finding that most of the wells had exhibited gas just below surface casing, with many around 500 feet, based upon cement bond and porosity logs for 29 gas wells. The letter is not included as an attachment, nor could EPA locate it on the WOGCC website. EPA suggests that the logs and analysis used to reach this conclusion be made available to public reviewers of this Report. It should be noted that cement bond logs are not relevant to identifying gas presence, as they are run after there is casing and cement in the wellbore. Porosity logs by themselves have limited ability to distinguish between freshwater and gas zones, as both hydrocarbons and fresh water are non-conductive; additional information beyond porosity logs would be needed to determine if non-conductive zones identified were fresh water or gas.
If in fact the presence of natural gas in the intermediate zone was known or believed, this would have alerted the permitting agency to the potential for pressures above hydrostatic head gradients to be present, highlighting the necessity for the entire wellbore to be cased and cemented to the surface (or above the surface casing shoe) in order to prevent gas and liquid migration either from the production zone or intermediate zones to shallower zones used for drinking water: “…sufficient surface casing shall be set to reach a depth below all known or reasonably estimated utilizable domestic freshwater levels…and shall be set in or through an impervious formation and shall be cemented…with sufficient cement to fill the annulus to the top of the hole…” (Rules and Regulations of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission promulgated July 23, 1951; effective August 21, 1951). This regulatory language was applicable to most of the wells drilled in the field. Also, rules promulgated in 1993 and 2000 required that “surface casing shall be run to reach a depth below all known or reasonably estimated utilizable domestic fresh water levels and to prevent blowouts or uncontrolled flows” (Wyoming Chapter 3, General Drilling Rules, 1993 and 2000). Many wells in the area are Tribal mineral wells subject to BLM’s Onshore Order #2 requirement for isolation of water containing up to 10,000 ppm of TDS, which is generally the case for the entire Wind River formation. The gas well integrity expert retained by Wyoming, Maurice B. Dusseault [Did Encana order the state to hire frac patent, conflict of interest “expert” Dusseault?], says the following in his report: “In modern well completion practice, this space [the bradenhead annulus] is intended to be cemented to the surface, or at least cemented a substantial distance above the surface casing shoe so that an effective flow seal exists between the two casings. Data from Pavillion Field reports show that primary cementing operations in many wells failed to lead to cement rising into the surface casing … In general, leaving an open annular space between the top of the production casing cement and the bottom (shoe) of the surface casing is not considered good practice (annum 2015), but wells drilled in the 2004-2005 campaign in Pavillion were not all cemented to above the surface casing shoe” (p. 13 Appendix G).
Source of gas in domestic water wells
The Report concludes that it is “almost certain” that part of the methane observed in water supply wells in the WDEQ investigation is naturally occurring and not a result of gas production (p. 78). This conclusion appears to be based solely on the limited data described above. There is often a question about prior gas migration or flux in regions producing hydrocarbon, particularly with gas reservoirs such as the Pavillion field that lack a clear confining layer above the hydrocarbon zone. In some cases it has been determined that even though there was prior migration of gas, energy development activities had increased the migration rate and volume causing noticeable increase in impacts (Coalbed Methane Development in the Northern San Juan Basin of Colorado-BLM 1999). The Report would benefit from a more robust basis for this conclusion and we encourage the development of a consistent conceptual model for the study area, and additional study to test key statements of finding. It would require multiple lines of evidence to distinguish whether the gas appearing in water wells is present due to natural migration or via movement up gas wellbores. Absent this, EPA recommends this conclusion be qualified to reflect the uncertainties inherent in the limited supporting data currently provided.
Source of gas in bradenheads
The Report concludes that bradenhead pressure and gas are most likely from non-producing intermediate zones within the Wind River formation. The Report states that the composition and isotope signature of the bradenhead gas is similar to the tubing or production gas, but then dismisses the potential for the gas to be sourced from the production zone without providing supporting information (pp. 70-73). The Report does not acknowledge or discuss the potential for gas to migrate up the wellbore from the production zone either through uncemented or poorly cemented annuli, or even to bypass sections of good cement by migrating through the formation around the wellbore. The Report points out that producing wells would be unlikely to allow gas migration due to the pressure sink induced by production, but does not consider shut in wells or wells that have been plugged and abandoned that do not have the induced pressure sink of a producing well. According to the information provided in Figures 12A-12K, four gas wells within the study area have been temporarily shut in, and nine have been plugged and abandoned, suggesting the importance of addressing the potential for gas wells not in producing status to allow gas migration up annuli.
This conclusion would benefit from additional investigation to provide a higher level of certainty. Improving the certainty of this conclusion is important for remediation already performed or under consideration as part of WOGCC’s gas well integrity evaluation and follow-up. If the gas or liquids are sourced from intermediate zones placement of remedial cement would be located differently than if fluid from the production zone fluids is migrating up an open or poorly cemented bradenhead annulus.
Likelihood of movement of hydraulic fracturing fluids into shallower zones
The Report concludes that hydraulic fracturing fluids had a “negligible likelihood” of reaching shallower zones used for drinking water.
This conclusion relies primarily on the relatively small fracturing fluid volumes reportedly used in the field- “often less than 200 bbls”. [!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]
No data or reference is provided for the fracturing volumes. This conclusion lacks supporting data, and given the short vertical distances between water supply well depths and gas well fracture depths relative to other production areas across the country, may need qualification. The study did not provide any additional data to evaluate the chemistry of the interval between water supply well depths and hydraulic fracturing depths to assist in evaluating the potential for hydraulic fracturing impacts in this deeper zone, and existing data for this interval from USGS and EPA were not considered in the Report. If this existing data is not used, the Report could benefit from development of additional data from this interval to evaluate the potential for impacts of hydraulic fracturing in this deeper zone.
Some wells in the field exhibit shallow surface casing [Encana pulled same cheapness at Rosebud] and uncemented annular intervals; although the Report acknowledges that these conditions increase the likelihood of movement of groundwater or gas, it does not discuss or acknowledge the potential that these conditions could similarly enable movement of hydraulic fracturing fluids. In particular, the Report does not acknowledge or evaluate situations where older wells with shallow surface casing and open bradenhead annulus existed in close proximity to newer wells with hydraulically fractured zones at similar depths. For example, gas wells 44-10 (API 49-013-20879, http://wogcc.state.wy.us/Wellapi.cfm?Oops=ID6869&nAPINO=1320879 ) and 43-10B (API 49-013-22420, http://wogcc.state.wy.us/Wellapi.cfm?Oops=ID87031&nAPINO=1322420 ) are approximately 520 feet apart. Well 44-10 was constructed in 1978 and although the top of cement is at 1918 feet below ground surface (bgs), top of good cement is located 404 feet deeper at 2322 feet bgs. The nearby well 43-10B constructed in 2004 was perforated and stimulated at 1810 feet which is 555 feet (adjusted for elevation difference of 46 feet) above the top of good cement in nearby 44-10. In addition, PGDW23, a domestic water supply well, is approximately 780 feet from gas well 44-10 and PGDW44 is approximately 1775 feet from 44-10. It should be noted that 44-10 exhibited bradenhead pressure of 150 psi when tested, and flowed liquid from the bradenhead during the entire 15-day test, including 410 barrels of liquid in the first 8 hours. Bradenhead monitoring in nearby wells was not conducted during hydraulic fracturing to detect pressure changes in the bradenhead annulus of these offset wells. As a result, there is no data to determine whether such inter-well communication may have occurred under a hydraulic fracturing pressure regime. EPA was unable to locate any bradenhead pressure monitoring data collected from the Pavillion field prior to the beginning of EPA’s investigation; when WOGCC initiated bradenhead monitoring efforts in 2012, some of the gas wells were found to have bradenheads which were not accessible and had clearly not been previously open.
There are some inconsistencies in the Report with respect to information on hydraulic fracturing depths: “hydraulic fracturing intervals typically start below 1,500 feet bgs but have been performed as shallow as 1,060 feet bgs…” and that the “shallowest depth that was hydraulically fractured within 1,420 feet of the 14 water-supply wells included in the study is 1,397 feet bgs”. This is followed by a statement in the next paragraph that likelihood is negligible that hydraulic fracturing treatments have led to fluids interacting with shallow groundwater in the study wells based on volume of treatments and depth with “shallowest hydraulic fracturing is generally deeper than 1,500 feet bgs” (p. 2). These statements are inconsistent and the reader would benefit from clarification. EPA further notes that there are some inconsistencies between Table 4 of the Report and data available on the WOGCC website or contained in the WOGCC Gas Well Integrity Review Report. Tribal 44-3 is identified in the Gas Well Integrity Review Report as being located within 797 feet of PGDW30, yet it is omitted from Table 4 of this Report, “Oil & Gas Wells within 1,420 feet of Water Supply Wells”. The WOGCC report also indicates that Tribal 44-3 was perforated and acid stimulated with 500 gallons of 15% HCl at 699-711 feet in 1999. Though a cement squeeze was subsequently performed and this interval cemented off [Encana did same to the wells it fractured into Rosebud drinking water aquifers!], it indicates stimulation occurred at a substantially shallower depth. Additionally, the data for depth of shallowest perforation in Table 4 of the Report do not all match data posted in the corresponding well files on the WOGCC website.
In summary, the data limitations and uncertainties discussed above suggest a need for additional investigation to provide support for many of the Report’s conclusions related to fluid movement, gas source and well integrity.
The Report posits that detections of Diesel Range Organics (DRO) and Gasoline Range Organics (GRO) could reflect naturally occurring compounds rather than petroleum hydrocarbons. EPA believes additional analysis is needed to support this hypothesis, which seems to be based largely on the fact that the DRO chromatograms from domestic well water samples do not resemble chromatograms from laboratory standards for diesel fuel. In the Pavillion area shallow hydrocarbon sources have been present over an extended time. It would be unlikely that petroleum hydrocarbons released from pits or other sources and subject to environmental weathering and degradation over time would resemble a fresh diesel chromatogram. EPA compared chromatograms from DRO and GRO in the VRP pit monitoring wells to fresh diesel chromatograms and found them to differ significantly. EPA’s Phase II analysis also identified the presence of C2-C10 straight chain hydrocarbons in domestic wells with DRO and GRO, confirming a hydrocarbon source for the DRO and GRO detections (EPA 2010). EPA suggests this Report is premature in suggesting that DRO and GRO detections may reflect naturally occurring organic matter rather than originating from the hydrocarbon reservoir.
The Report further observes that fresh petroleum fuels such as DRO and GRO consist almost entirely of non-polar compounds, and presents data from well water analysis done using a Silica Gel Clean-up (SGCU) method, which screens out polar compounds. Without understanding what those polar compounds are and whether they may be associated breakdown products of hydrocarbon compounds, EPA suggests that screening out those compounds does not provide an accurate understanding of what is in domestic wells water nor assist in discerning the source of the polar fraction.
The Report states that “reported DRO concentrations with SGCU compared with reported DRO concentrations without SGCU in groundwater samples collected in June and August 2014 reveals that in most cases, the reported DRO concentration with SGCU was less than the MDL (Table 14). This suggests that the reported DRO concentrations in many of the samples are attributable to, or were predominantly non-polar compounds.” (p. 87) It appears that the authors may have meant to say that the remaining DRO exhibits chromatogram peaks reflective of predominantly polar compounds.
DRO and GRO were found in conjunction with other hydrocarbon compounds in previous EPA sampling (EPA 2009; 2010; 2014). EPA notes that the highest DRO and GRO concentrations were identified in gas well fluids sampled at the wellhead, and from shallow groundwater monitoring wells at VRP pit sites with demonstrated hydrocarbon contamination in groundwater. Additionally, products containing diesel fuel were used in hydraulic fracturing at Pavillion (EPA 2010). Encana, WYDEQ and EPA have all detected tentatively identified organic compounds for various wells tested in the study area. This may be another indication that hydrocarbon compounds have been degraded to by-products that are not easily identified with standard methods. For example, adamantane compounds were originally detected as Tentatively Identified Compounds (TICs) in domestic wells in EPA Phase I (EPA 2009). Subsequent sampling of water supply wells and VRP pit monitoring wells In EPA Phase II (EPA 2010) confirmed and quantified these compounds. Based on these observations, there may be more lines of evidence to suggest the DRO and GRO detections are associated with oil and gas activity.
The Report seems to suggest that biodegradation of dissolved unknown organic constituents by bacteria is a source of palatability concerns in domestic wells (p. 4). EPA notes that the highest levels of both DRO/GRO and of iron-related and other heterotrophic bacteria are those found in the shallow monitoring wells associated with VRP pits (EPA 2010). EPA concurs with the observed correlation between dissolved organic constituents and the proliferation of bacteria, but notes that the correlation does not establish that the source is degradation of non-hydrocarbon compounds. The Report notes that the dissolved organic compounds in some water wells (including dissolved gas) may be contributing to deteriorating water quality by promoting microbially-mediated reducing conditions resulting in increased mobilization of other constituents such as arsenic, and production of hydrogen sulfide (pp. 4 and 108). EPA concurs with this observation; however, the fact sheet accompanying the Report states: “…bradenhead pressures in several gas wells provide strong indication that gas and possibly liquid migration may be happening; however, there is no evidence that this migration has caused water quality issues.” These statements appear to be contradictory, and EPA recommends the fact sheet statement be modified to reflect the lack of data demonstrating that the observed gas migration is not impacting water quality. EPA also notes that the highest arsenic levels were present in the VRP pit monitoring wells, which also had high concentrations of dissolved organics including petroleum hydrocarbons. This suggests that contaminant plumes from pits are a likely source of constituents such as arsenic and merit additional investigation (such as the installation of nested monitoring wells) to provide more definitive understanding of the vertical and lateral extent and the chemical composition of plumes associated with pits and their effect on domestic wells.
The Report mentions that TICs in PGDW05 were attributed to decaying organic matter (p. 7). There is no data or analysis to support this statement, and EPA recommends it be removed or qualified. For example, adamantane compounds were detected in PGDW05 and originally identified as TICs, and confirmed and quantified in subsequent EPA sampling. The Report further states that adamantanes, because they are widely recognized as a component of petroleum hydrocarbons, “…may be from naturally occurring gas.” (p. 90) EPA notes that adamantanes were also found in VRP pit monitoring wells and in production fluids (Phase II Analytical Results Report, August 2010), suggesting those as likely sources. EPA recommends this statement be modified accordingly.
Although fuel spills can be a source of hydrocarbon contamination, there is no source comparability between a 50 gallon fuel tank that may have experienced incidental spillage, and a single unlined reserve or production fluid pit that received hundreds to thousands of barrels of fluids over a period of years and often decades (Figures 12A-12K illustrate that a number of oil-based mud reserve/production pits in the study area were operative for decades). In addition, there are at least eight pits that have been enrolled in the VRP cleanup program, reflecting documented groundwater contamination associated with these sources. It is important when assessing possible sources to consider the potential for those sources to impact groundwater based on constituents, volumes and duration of potential releases from those sources, and to reflect that potential in discussion and conclusions regarding potential sources. For example, if septic systems were a source of water supply well palatability problems, nitrate would be anticipated as a major constituent in sampling results. However, nitrate has not been a constituent of concern for most wells in the area, suggesting that domestic waste and fertilizer use are not contaminating groundwater within the study area.
The Report states that “2-butoxyethanol (2-BE) was reported at an estimated concentration of 3,100 J ug/L in the June 2014 sample collected from PGDW33. However, the reported concentration was near the MDL of 2,300 ug/l, and the analytical method employed (US EPA 8015A) uses a non-specific detector, so compound identification is less certain” (p. 89). The measured value is ~35% above the MDL, and it is unclear from the information provided why the identification of this compound is “less certain”. The Report also states that “if present, potential sources of the 2-butoxyethanol reported in the sample from PGDW32 (sic) include the septic systems and surface releases” (p. 89). EPA notes that this reference to PGDW32 rather than PGDW33 appears to be a typo as 2-BE was not detected in PGDW32. EPA further notes that the pit located 577 feet from PGDW33 was utilized as an oil-based mud reserve pit and subsequently as a produced water/flowback pit for more than 20 years (Figure 12G). 2-BE was used as a constituent in fracturing fluids at Pavillion (EPA 2010) and may thus have been present in flowback managed in pits. It should also be noted that 2-BE was detected at 765-785 feet bgs in MW01 (EPA 2011). Given that there were no detections of E. coli and only low levels of nitrate (2.1 mg/L) in PGDW33, it seems that the pit may be a more likely source of this detection than septic system releases. [!!!!!!!!!!!!!]
EPA notes that some results for DRO and GRO were qualified as not detected (U) due to reported concentrations in the associated method blank or trip blank samples. The “B” qualifier should be used instead to avoid confusion and put the data in its proper context. EPA suggests these results be reviewed with respect to the magnitude of difference between the quality assurance (QA) sample detections (which could be due to lab issues) and the environmental samples, and reevaluated if that difference in magnitude is sufficiently large. EPA quality assurance and data validation protocols allow use of qualified data where the environmental sample detections exceed the concentration found in the blank based on the judgment of the investigator (http://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-03/documents/somnfg.pdf ). In addition, prior to discounting DRO results with associated blank detections, EPA suggests previous sampling events be reviewed to determine if DRO or GRO detections were seen only during events with blank contamination.
The inorganic chemistry data presented in the Report may not provide sufficient sensitivity for distinguishing sources of water potentially impacting the shallow zones used for drinking water and evaluating whether facilitated transport of formation water is or has occurred from deeper zones into shallower zones. Stable isotopes of strontium have been successful in this type of analysis, and EPA recommends consideration of more targeted tracers such as these to assess potential migration of formation water into shallow zones.
EPA offers some clarification with respect to domestic well sampling conducted by the Agency. EPA did not sample PGDW41B in 2009 as the Report indicates (p. 48). In January 2010, EPA’s sample at PGDW41 was collected from the deeper well present at this location, rather than being a mixture of water from PGDW41A and PGDW41B, as the Report states (p. 59). Finally, the Report indicates that EPA hired a well service contractor to install a temporary pump/discharge line for PGDW41, and that this work may have contributed to DRO and TPH results in this sample (p. 88). EPA does not believe this to be the case. This sample was collected utilizing a SOP that called for flushing the water wells three well casing volumes to prevent sampling stagnant water so as to ensure there would be no artifacts from sampling components. These results were reviewed and validated without data flags and thus are considered valid data. Further, if artifacts from temporary sampling equipment were the source of DRO and TPH, it would not explain the fact that DRO is still present four years later.
The Report observes that monitoring and remediation at the pit locations are often limited to the zone of shallowest groundwater, reflecting the judgment that these zones are not hydraulically connected to the somewhat deeper sandstone lenses in which many domestic wells are completed. Yet, as is also pointed out, pump tests conducted in the area reflected hydraulic impacts (drawdown) in wells as deep as 662 feet and as much as a mile away. Without further analysis and the development of a conceptual model as described above, the pump test results suggest that investigation and/or remediation at pit locations needs to encompass deeper groundwater, preferably by employing nested monitoring wells at pit sites with known groundwater contamination to enable characterization of the plume depth profile The lack of sufficient data to characterize groundwater flow patterns and gradients that the Report notes makes it difficult to assess over what distance impacts to groundwater from pits might occur.
… [Emphasis added]
From Flint to fracking, EPA can learn from its mistakes by Barbara Gottlieb, March 23, 2016, The Hill
As most of us have heard by now, an emergency manager in Flint, Michigan switched water sources from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014 to cut costs without adding required corrosion controls. The EPA was aware of dangerously high levels of lead in the water supply the following year, but chose to remain silent for months.
The result? Hundreds of Flint children are thought to now have elevated blood-lead levels, which can lead to serious, irreversible damage to the nervous system.
To its credit, EPA has finally admitted its mistakes and begun to take responsibility. But Flint is not an isolated example. All too often, the EPA seems to let polluters off the hook.
A striking example is EPA’s report on the drinking water impacts of fracking for oil and natural gas. In June 2015, EPA released a draft report summarizing the scientific evidence about the frequency and severity of fracking’s impacts on drinking water. The EPA reviewed evidence of fracking incidents including spills of toxic fracking fluid and chemicals, groundwater contamination, discharges of fracking waste into rivers and streams, and underground migration of fracking chemicals, including methane, into drinking water wells.
The report confirms over 450 specific cases of spills of chemicals and water contamination caused by drilling and fracking-related actions. The report also identifies the multiple mechanisms by which contamination took place.
Despite these clear findings, the report used language that was misleading and has since been misinterpreted by the media, industry and the public to suggest that fracking is safe and that there is not evidence of harm to our water resources. They summarize the draft report saying that the “assessment shows hydraulic fracturing has not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.”
Now EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board panel, tasked with reviewing the June draft, has raised highly critical comments about the agency’s representation of its findings. Last month in a public teleconference on the report, scientific, health, and legal experts testified about the shortcomings of the Agency’s study. Numerous organizations, including my own, have submitted letters to the Science Advisory Board, voicing our own disagreement with EPA’s apparent stance.
Is EPA too focused on protecting the fracking industry, rather than the people it is supposed to serve? Several well-known fracking cases highlight this concern, yet were inexplicably excluded from the June draft report.
In late 2010, EPA issued an emergency order that said at least two homeowners in Parker County, Texas were in immediate danger of having their water contaminated, and required the local drilling company, Range Resources, to provide clean water. But over a year later the mandate was quietly dropped. It was later revealed that EPA had scientific evidence indicating that the driller, Range Resources, had caused the water contamination, but the Agency acceded to corporate pressure from the company, choosing to discontinue the investigation rather than see it through.
In a second high-profile case, EPA released in 2011 a draft report suggesting that fracking likely explained pollution of underground sources of drinking water in the Pavillion gas basin in Wyoming, where residents had been complaining about foul water for years. Two years later EPA suddenly dropped the investigation, handing it over to Wyoming state officials, who happened to be pro-fracking.
A similar situation arose in Dimock, Pennsylvania, where EPA cut short its investigation despite strong evidence of water contamination, including multiple cases of exploding drinking water wells.
The pattern is clear and troubling: EPA has dropped investigations that seemed likely to lead to the conclusion that fracking causes health and safety hazards.
As health professionals we work to prevent harm to the public’s health. The public has a right to know the risks associated with fracking in their communities.
For these reasons, we call on the EPA to clearly state in its report the logical conclusion of its own findings: that specific mechanisms associated with fracking activities place our aquifers and drinking water at increased risk of harm, and that evidence exists of harm already inflicted on drinking water resources, caused directly by fracking and its related activities.
Then it will be time to turn our attention to protecting affected residents and remediating the chemical contamination that they, like the children of Flint, face in their drinking water and their daily lives.
Gottlieb is director of Environment & Health for Physicians for Social Responsibility. [Emphasis added]