EPA abandons study that linked fracking, Wyoming water pollution
By Ben Geman - 06/20/13 06:15 PM ET
THE HILL's Energy & Environment Blog
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.
Drillers Silence Fracking Claims With Sealed Settlements
ByJim Efstathiou Jr.&Mark Drajem-Jun 6, 2013 12:00 AM ET
The companies insisted hydraulic fracturing -- the technique they used to free underground gas -- wasn’t the cause. Nevertheless, in 2011, a year after the family sued, Range Resources Corp (RRC). and two other companies agreed to a $750,000 settlement. In order to collect, the Hallowiches promised not to tell anyone, according to court filings.
The Hallowiches aren’t alone. In cases from Wyoming toArkansas, Pennsylvania to Texas, drillers have agreed to cash settlements or property buyouts with people who say hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, ruined their water, according to a review by Bloomberg News of hundreds of regulatory and legal filings. In most cases homeowners must agree to keep quiet.
The strategy keeps data from regulators, policymakers, the news media and health researchers, and makes it difficult to challenge the industry’s claim that fracking has never tainted anyone’s water.
“At this point they feel they can get out of this litigation relatively cheaply,” Marc Bern, an attorney with Napoli Bern Ripka Sholnik LLP in New York who has negotiated about 30 settlements on behalf of homeowners, said in an interview. “Virtually on all of our settlements where they paid money they have requested and demanded that there be confidentiality.”
Because the agreements are almost always shrouded by non-disclosure pacts -- a judge ordered the Hallowich case unsealed after media requests -- no one can say for sure how many there are. Some stem from lawsuits, while others result from complaints against the drillers or with regulators that never end up in court.
“We are transforming our energy infrastructure in this country from burning coal for electricity to potentially burning a lot of natural gas,” Aaron Bernstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in an interview. Non-disclosure agreements “have interfered with the ability of scientists and public health experts to understand what is at stake here.”