In some of the biggest news which will not come as “news” to anyone who follows the industry, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality concluded a two year study this week into reports of ground water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming. There had been reports of “foul smelling water” in two test wells drilled by the EPA near one of the many drilling sites in the gas field half a decade ago. The initial EPA report which was ready to blame fracking for the contamination immediately came under heavy criticism in the scientific community and was never released. Still the Wyoming DEQ went ahead with this extensive investigation. Their conclusion? There was no contamination of the ground water from the drilling sites and the EPA most likely caused the problem themselves. (Associated Press)
A final state report released Thursday on foul-smelling well water in Wyoming contradicts an EPA report from five years ago that ignited a national backlash when it suggested hydraulic fracturing was the cause of the contamination.
Bacteria were more likely to blame for the problem in Pavillion than the oil and gas drilling process known as fracking, officials with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality said after a two-year study that was hailed by fracking advocates.
“Today’s announcement from the Wyoming DEQ doesn’t just close the case on Pavillion, it’s a knockout blow for activists who have tried to use Pavillion as a key talking point for their ban-fracking agenda,” said Randy Hildreth, Colorado director of Energy in Depth, an advocacy arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
The AP story really doesn’t go into the level of detail we need to fully grasp what a debacle this is for the EPA. To get those sorts of facts you’ll want to see the analysis – complete with photos – over at Energy Indepth. Since the contaminants found in the test wells didn’t match anything going into the ground at the fracking site, the DEQ finally sent a camera down into the wells. What do you suppose they found? First of all, the EPA well was drilled in a defective fashion. The artificial materials in the well almost certainly came from the drilling process when the EPA dug the wells.
Second, the junk they allowed in there clogged the screens down at the base of the well. This allowed stagnant, standing water to build up at the bottom and it became infested with bacteria and biological agents. (As happens with any stagnant pools of water.) The bacterial infestation was what was causing the smell. The origin of the problem the EPA has been complaining about since 2011 was almost certainly caused by… you guessed it… the EPA. Randy Hildreth at Energy Indepth explains why this should close the books on these claims by anti-fracking activists once and for all.
The report is a devastating blow for the national environmental activist campaign against fracking, which has made Pavillion a key talking point in its effort to shut down oil and gas development across the country. For years, anti-fracking activists have misrepresented and exaggerated the EPA’s initial conclusions to support their calls for a nationwide fracking ban. They have also ignored serious criticisms of the EPA’s work by state environmental regulators and even other federal agencies, namely the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management, in their desperate attempt to build a case for banning fracking.
Those criticisms from state and federal officials have focused on a pair of water-quality monitoring wells, drilled by the EPA, which were poorly constructed and likely introduced the very contaminants that some have tried to blame on fracking. Eventually, under the weight of these criticisms, the EPA backed down. The agency never submitted its draft report, released in late 2011, for peer review and handed the Pavillion case back to state regulators.
The actual results of the EPA monitoring well study (once you subtract out the bacteria introduced by their own mistake) were the same as other tests done across the country. In Pennsylvania the energy companies engaged in fracking there allowed the state DEQ to inject special chemical markers into their drilling fluid and then monitor test wells nearby for a period of years. Those special markers don’t occur in nature, so if they showed up in the drinking water we’d know where they came from.
Not one single well ever tested positive for the markers over the entire period of study.
The sad but still hilarious part of this story is that once again the EPA caused their own problems when attempting to drill a well. Remember what happened when they starting boring into the ground at the Gold King mine? Perhaps the people at the Environmental Protection Agency shouldn’t be allowed to play with any drilling equipment until they get some comprehensive training in how to use it from the energy industry. Maybe Trump can look into that as one of his first executive orders for the EPA.