AP Breaking News: EPA Implicates Fracking in Groundwater Pollution at Wyoming Gas Field

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"AP Breaking News: EPA Implicates Fracking in Groundwater Pollution at Wyoming Gas Field"

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday for the first time that fracking — a controversial method of improving the productivity of oil and gas wells — may be to blame for causing groundwater pollution.

The draft finding could have a chilling effect in states trying to determine how to regulate the process.

The practice is called hydraulic fracturing and involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to open fissures and improve the flow of oil or gas to the surface.

The EPA’s found that compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals had been detected in the groundwater beneath a Wyoming community where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals.

Health officials advised them not to drink their water after the EPA found hydrocarbons in their wells.

This APNewsBreak is certainly a bombshell for an industry whose favorite (very dubious) talking point had been “we’ve never had one confirmed case of groundwater contamination.”

Of course, the important and influential NY Times series on natural gas fracking reported back in February that “The dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.”

And the industry insiders who made up the DOE Fracking Panel warned last month of “a Real Risk of Serious Environmental Consequences” Absent Regulation:

It is the Subcommittee’s judgment that if action is not taken to reduce the environmental impact accompanying the very considerable expansion of shale gas production expected across the country – perhaps as many as 100,000 wells over the next several decades – there is a real risk of serious environmental consequences and a loss of public confidence that could delay or stop this activity.

The new EPA finding certainly supports that warning.

Here is more from the AP story on the implications of the preliminary finding:

The EPA announcement has major implications for the vast increase in gas drilling in the U.S. in recent years. Fracking has played a large role in opening up many reserves.

The industry has long contended that fracking is safe, but environmentalists and some residents who live near drilling sites say it has poisoned groundwater….

“EPA’s highest priority remains ensuring that Pavillion residents have access to safe drinking water,” said Jim Martin, EPA regional administrator in Denver. “We look forward to having these findings in the draft report informed by a transparent and public review process.”

The EPA also emphasized that the findings are specific to the Pavillion area. The agency said the fracking that occurred in Pavillion differed from fracking methods used elsewhere in regions with different geological characteristics.

The fracking occurred below the level of the drinking water aquifer and close to water wells, the EPA said. Elsewhere, drilling is more remote and fracking occurs much deeper than the level of groundwater that anybody would use.

This new EPA finding suggests that the agency is not making the mistake it made in the 1980s — see Exclusive: EPA Whistle-Blower Warns EPA Must Not Buckle to Industry Pressure and Greenwash Fracking Yet Again; 37-Year EPA Veteran:  Oil & Gas “Industry is Targeting the Times” Because its Fracking Series “Had an Unprecedented Role in Prodding EPA into Action.”

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22 Responses to AP Breaking News: EPA Implicates Fracking in Groundwater Pollution at Wyoming Gas Field

  1. There’s got to be a way to put some sort of non-toxic tracer chemical into the fracking wells to prove conclusively that they are leaking into the groundwater. Hydrocarbons in the water are quite suggestive, but I think this can be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, and if the fracking companies are so confident that they aren’t at fault for those hydrocarbons, they should be eager to participate.

    • Joan Savage says:

      A tracer might supplement to other data, but the preponderance of evidence has to be the hydro-fracking related chemicals themselves identified from multiple samples and multiple wells over time.

      Here’s why I think that a tracer would be inconclusive. Soil or fractured rock acts rather like a sep column in chromatography, with different chemicals migrating through at different rates. The fracking injection mixes have an array of hydrophilic and hydrophobic substances that can distribute or re-concentrate under various soil conditions. Unfortunately, a tracer doesn’t replicate the migration behaviors of the mix chemicals.

      The kicker with hydrofracking has been that the industry doesn’t like to disclose its proprietary chemical mix.

      Now, if we were tracking sewage in groundwater, I’d say test for caffeine, which is abnormal in natural groundwater and yet ubiquitous in urban sewage. Like caffeine, some fracking ingredients are definitely alien to local water conditions, so those would be good markers, if the analytic labs know what to test for.

      • Interesting! So the only way it would work for sure is if the tracer mimics the chemicals themselves, but then of course the chemicals should be detectable in that case.

        The idea that the mix of fracking chemicals is treated as a trade secret is ridiculous. At a minimum, states and the Feds should simply require that these be revealed so we can figure out what’s going on underground.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          Jonathan, the business pathocrats use this ‘commercial in confidence’ trick more and more often. You cannot find what ‘adjuvants’ are added to vaccines, or to herbicides and pesticides. Numerous financial details are similarly kept hidden, and court settlements ubiquitously contain ‘confidentiality’ clauses, to keep the details of business malfeasance hidden. They do not want the public knowing what they are up to. At the same time business operated MSM pry into the private lives of anybody that takes their fancy, even intruding into childrens’ funerals and other intensely private events. Not only are they immoral ghouls, they are gigantic hypocrites as well.

        • Joan Savage says:

          Spot on to you both.
          Requiring disclosure of the fracking chemicals is critical. Yet, even if all the injection chemicals were benign (and they are not), other production fluid and fugitive methane that come out of the wells are still problematic.
          Mulga’s point about proving safe practice doesn’t have to be just about the injection mix, but can apply to the whole process. In the methane-rich shales in the Northeast there are also soluble salts, including toxic halides like boron and some radionuclides, and those can be mobilized by fracking fluid. What comes back up is a combination of the frackers’ proprietary mix and the mobilized chemicals in the shale, in addition to the intended methane release.

          • John McCormick says:

            Joan, you always make solid, sensible comments and I consider you a vital part of the CP learning experience.

            Example: You said: “In the methane-rich shales in the Northeast there are also soluble salts, including toxic halides like boron and some radionuclides, and those can be mobilized by fracking fluid. What comes back up is a combination of the frackers’ proprietary mix and the mobilized chemicals in the shale, in addition to the intended methane release.”

            We need more technically savvy commentors like yourself.

          • Bill fom Dover says:

            In the methane-rich shales in the Northeast there are also soluble salts, including toxic halides like boron and some radionuclides, and those can be mobilized by fracking fluid. What comes back up is a combination of the frackers’ proprietary mix and the mobilized chemicals in the shale, in addition to the intended methane release.”

            Kinda like a Santorum… yes?

    • Ross says:

      This case near Pavilion Wy is almost certainly caused by the fracking operation. They were fracking a sandstone formation only a few hundred feet deeper than the aquifer providing the community water wells. There was no overlying shale barrier formation to prevent the upward migration of fracking fluid into the aquifer. No self-respecting state could possibly have allowed such an operation to be permitted.

  2. catman306 says:

    New Gingrich book on climate change likely coming after the election

    http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-gingrich-climate-book-20111208,0,7420605.story?

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      ‘A self-made man Who worships His Creator’.

      • Joan Savage says:

        “Newt 2012″ called with a taped message from himself in which he alleged that Obama is turning the US into something “European” and “secular.” I’m sorry I didn’t have a tape recorder at the ready to capture his exact phrasing.

        Thanks to a decision of a family member twelve years ago to register as a Republican, we get messages from the GOP. I find it interesting to find out what they are saying. No other GOP candidate has called yet.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          I was surprised to learn that His name is not an abbreviation. If I was an amphibian, I’d sue for defamation by association.

  3. Paul Revere says:

    “The EPA also emphasized that the findings are specific to the Pavillion area. The agency said the fracking that occurred in Pavillion differed from fracking methods used elsewhere in regions with different geological characteristics.
    The fracking occurred below the level of the drinking water aquifer and close to water wells, the EPA said. Elsewhere, drilling is more remote and fracking occurs much deeper than the level of groundwater that anybody would use.”

    The full story hardly looks like any sort of a nationally generalizable bombshell. I know that to be considered an “expert” you should take on extremely definitive positions on an issue in an extremely confident way, so I guess that explains the way the story is written.

    • Leif says:

      “Elsewhere, drilling is more remote and fracking occurs much deeper than the level of groundwater that anybody would use.” What you are saying here is that it will take longer to migrate to areas than any one can use in the time frame that it will or could matter to the fossil industry to worry about. QED It would be someone else’s problem. Or… Business as usual. Privatize profits, socialize liabilities.

    • Millicent says:

      I’m sorry, we have just gone from ‘fracking does not contaminate groundwater’ to ‘sometimes it does’. How does that not get to be a nationwide concern?

      And how do you think people feel in areas where fracking is being done and who are waiting to discover if they too will be one of those ‘rare’ incidents?

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        Millicent,this is how they always do it. When they are getting their foot in the door, everything is 100% safe. Once they are established the facts begin to trickle out. After the ‘resource’ is fully exhausted and all that remains are vast polluted landscapes and contaminated ground-water, and billions in Cayman Island accounts, the whole disaster is acknowledged, with much head-shaking and promises that it will never happen again. If you attempt to seek compensation in court, the corporations will impoverish you with years of legal manouevring, and business friendly courts will trim any compensation down until you are left with nothing, but the toxic sludge.

  4. EDpeak says:

    Not nationally generalizable? Perhaps, but then just click on the link Joe put at

    “whose favorite (very dubious) talking point”

    namely http://blogs.wvgazette.com/watchdog/2011/08/03/report-ties-fracking-to-w-va-well-contamination/

    and you see it’s far from the first or only case.

    What do we do? Wait until we have multi-year long carefully documented 100% proof of contamination across 5 different states? 10? 20? 100? Wait until human health effects are studied and studied and studied again, delay, delay, delay, and then, after it’s decades too late, say “oops, I guess they had a point?” I think not.

    Precautionary Principle.

    The burden of proof is not on us to prove “unsafe”

    The burden of proof is for them to very strongly establish “safe” or extremely-low risk of any serious ill effects.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The Rightwing propaganda apparatus inverted the meaning of the ‘Precautionary Principle’ some years ago. They are always doing it-they inverted ‘Freedom of Association’ which meant the freedom to start a union, into the freedom to bust unions and preference scabs. They turned ‘Sustainable Development’ into a concept where it was the ‘development’ not the biosphere, that must be ‘sustained’. They inverted the meaning of the word ‘sceptic’ to become one who credulously or mendaciously peddled denialist lies without question. And then they make their inversions the ‘New Reality’ by repetitious lying in the MSM, as recommended by Herr Goebbels.

  5. Will Fox says:

    But fracking creates jobs! Let’s do more fracking!

    To not do fracking would be unamerican and socialist!

    More pollution! Less regulations! More toxic water! Drill, baby, drill! Yeah!

  6. Merrelyn Emery says:

    This industry seems to have come from nowhere to everywhere in Oz in the blink of an eyelid. But it is being opposed wherever we have arable land.

    Please continue to send us all new research data: as the most arid continent outside Antarctica, we can’t afford to further compromise or destroy our fragile water resources, ME

  7. Chad says:

    Placing toxic chemicals in someone else’s drinking water should be treated as assult with a deadly weapon. Prison sentences should be the standard consequence.

  8. Buzz Belleville says:

    This is pretty huge. I teach Sustainable Energy Law, and I have been guilty of parroting the company line when it comes to driniking water contamination from the fracking process. I’ve been critical of the process when it comes to freshwater needs and the disposal of produced water, but I’ve been generally supportive of the process. I need to re-examine my position. Certainly, the no-federal-regulation crowd takes a hit.

    For those on the board who have been critical of EPA for not acting faster, you should know that EPA’s authority to protect drinking water comes from the Safe Drinking Water Act, passed in the early 1970s. But in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, Dick Cheney successfully persuaded lawmakers to exempt from SDWA regulation “the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.” This is called the Haliburton Exemption.