The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has just released the results of its 30-month investigation into water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming, and it has concluded that hydraulic fracturing is unlikely to have been the cause. As the report explains,
“Evidence suggests that upward gas seepage (or gas charging of shallow sands) was happening naturally before gas well development.
It is unlikely that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallower depths intercepted by water- supply wells. Evidence does not indicate that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallow depths intersected by water-supply wells. The likelihood that the hydraulic fracture well stimulation treatments (i.e. often less than 200 barrels) employed in the Pavillion Gas Field have led to fluids interacting with shallow groundwater (i.e. water-supply well depths) is negligible.” (emphasis added)
As the Casper-Star Tribune put it,
“Samples taken from 13 water wells in 2014 detected high levels of naturally occurring pollution. Test results showed little evidence of contaminants associated with oil and gas production.”
Background on Pavilion, Wyoming
The implications of this conclusion are quite far reaching, especially considering that anti-fracking activists have long cited Pavillion, Wyoming as a linchpin in their campaign to shut down oil and gas development across the country. They have done this even though the claim has already been put to rest.
As Energy In Depth has noted on many occasions, this story hinged on a single draft Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report from December 2011, which theorized a link between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination.
But EPA’s work was widely criticized by state and federal officials. For instance, when the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) conducted subsequent testing, they had more than 50 separate measurements that differed from EPA’s results. USGS also effectively disqualified one of only two monitoring wells used by EPA, due to low flow rates and poor construction.
Don Simpson, then- state director for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), suggested EPA’s testing could have introduced “bias in the samples,” and added that the data “should not be prematurely used as a line of evidence that supports EPA’s suggestion that gas has migrated into the shallow subsurface due to hydraulic fracturing or improper well completion until more data is collected and analyzed.”
In an October 2012 meeting of the Pavillion Working Group in Riverton, Wyoming, the DEQ presented its “down-hole camera” investigation of EPA’s monitoring wells, which showed that EPA was not using stainless steel casing as it had claimed, but had rather used carbon steel. They also found drilling mud and cuttings at the bottom of the well. Both of these factors could have introduced contaminants.
In late 2011, after the Pavillion data had been collected and analyzed — but not yet made public — then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said: “We have absolutely no indication right now that drinking water is at risk.” After the report was released, Jackson told reporters, “In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.”
In response to significant criticism from federal and state regulatory officials, EPA withdrew its draft report from the peer-review process, and turned the investigation over to state regulators.
Bolsters EPA’s groundwater study
This latest DEQ report bolsters EPA’s conclusion in its five-year study that “hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.”
The Wyoming DEQ’s findings come just as anti-fracking activists have called for the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) to recommend including Pavillion, Wyoming, as well as Parker County, Texas and Dimock, Pennsylvania in the agency’s study, which was released earlier this year.
Yet in each of these cases, regulators and scientists have determined that hydraulic fracturing was not the cause of water contamination. Now, with this latest Wyoming DEQ study made public, the conclusions could not be clearer.