EPA decides peer review of fracking study not such a good idea

posted at 5:01 pm on June 23, 2013 by Jazz Shaw

Erika and I have been covering the Environmental Protection Agency’s, shall we say, “complicated” relationship with the truth under the Obama administration for some time now. One of the many tales coming out of that department was being featured as recently as Thursday, dealing with the widely panned study in Wyoming which finally sought to tie fracking (hydraulic fracturing) to ground water contamination. The study was due for scientific peer review, attempting to determine if the chemicals found in well water were truly the result of fracking in the area, but somehow the process kept getting delayed, over and over for a year and a half.

The EPA has extended public comment periods on the draft report three times since it came out — twice last year and again this year. Each extension delayed the peer-review plans.

At long last the wait is over. As Investors Business Daily reports, the EPA has found a solution which will surely satisfy everyone. They just won’t do it.

The Environmental Protection Agency declines to have outside experts review its study claiming water contamination from fracking in Wyoming. Why confuse an analysis based on ideology with the facts?

In 2011, the EPA released the non-peer reviewed report on Pavillion in which the agency publicly linked fracking and groundwater contamination for the first time. However, then-EPA administrator Lisa Jackson stated that there is “no proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.”

And really, why would you? If you’re trying to get to the bottom of a complicated science and engineering problem, the last thing you want is a bunch of scientists and engineers coming along and muddying the waters. (If you’ll pardon the pun.) But in the test case cited by the study, there were some traces of chemicals in the well water! Where could they have come from? I mean, it’s not like the EPA put them there, right?

First, the contamination was found in two “monitoring wells” drilled by EPA outside of town, not in water wells that actually supply residents their water. EPA use of “dense soda ash” to drill its monitoring wells into a hydrocarbon-bearing layer probably skewed the results.

According to the industry research group Energy in Depth, “dense soda ash has a recorded pH (11.5), very similar to the level found in the deep wells, creating the possibility that the high pH recorded by EPA could have been caused by the very chemicals it used to drill its own wells.”

What the EPA report doesn’t say is that the U.S. Geological Survey has detected organic chemicals in the well water in Pavillion for at least five decades, long before fracking was done. The deepwater wells that EPA drilled are situated near a natural gas reservoir.

Encana Corp., which owns more than 100 wells near Pavillion, says it didn’t “put the natural gas at the bottom of the EPA’s deep monitoring wells. Nature did.”

Understanding full well how inappropriate it would be to laugh over this serious of a subject, I’m sorry to say that this is pretty darned funny. The study detected chemicals found in soda ash in the well they drilled using dense soda ash in the drilling process. There were traces of natural gas in the well which they drilled over a pocket of natural gas. I’m sure glad we finally elected an administration who would right the ship after kicking out all of the Republicans who hate science.

And yet it seems that this study will stand as part of the government’s body of work and be referenced when making decisions about fracking for oil, natural gas and other energy products from domestic sources. The lack of peer review will doubtless not be noted when it’s invoked. What could possibly go wrong?


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