EPA omitted embarrassing data from fracking report

More lyin’ and cheatin’ from the Obama EPA.

About the EPA’s recent claim to link fracking with groundwater contamination in Wyoming, the Casper Star-Tribune reports,

… Yet the EPA’s own data — including details not mentioned in the draft report — indicates the agency’s conclusions are partially based on improperly analyzed samples from six private drinking-water wells and two EPA-drilled deep monitoring wells in Pavillion…

So what is Congress waiting for?

The Star-Tribune reports is below.

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EPA report: Pavillion water samples improperly tested
By JEREMY FUGLEBERG Star-Tribune energy reporter | Posted: Tuesday, December 27, 2011

From the moment the Pavillion water samples were bottled by testers with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the clock began to tick.

The testers zipped the bottles tightly in clear plastic bags, surrounded them with ice in two small coolers, and shipped them overnight to the agency’s laboratory in Golden, Colo., for analysis.

There, the samples waited as the deadline neared for them to be accurately tested. By the time the samples were tested, the EPA-mandated hold times had come and gone.

“Maintenance of the laboratory floor” caused the hold, according to the EPA’s lab data report on the April 2011 samples.

The overdue analysis of those samples was part of the data that underpinned the EPA’s eventual conclusions, released in a draft report in early December. The agency’s key conclusion: Natural gas wells in the area, most developed using hydraulic fracturing, might have harmed groundwater.

The report was quickly slammed by the oil and gas industry but trumpeted by environmental groups. Yet the EPA’s own data — including details not mentioned in the draft report — indicates the agency’s conclusions are partially based on improperly analyzed samples from six private drinking-water wells and two EPA-drilled deep monitoring wells in Pavillion.

The EPA also found contamination in pure water control samples, didn’t purge the test wells properly before gathering samples and didn’t mention in its report whether it tested water carried by a truck used in well drilling, say officials with the Wyoming Water Development Commission who, because of their expertise on water wells, reviewed the EPA’s publicly available information.

“They didn’t follow their own protocol they would’ve required of other people doing this same type of work,” said Mike Purcell, director of the water development commission staff, which does water planning and infrastructure development in the state.

EPA officials don’t dispute the samples went past due for testing, but they stand by the report’s overall conclusions, which suggest hydraulic fracturing might be responsible for Pavillion’s tainted water.

The data and report included flaws and omissions that could torpedo the EPA’s conclusions, said Keith Clarey, water development commission program manager and professional geologist with three decades of experience — including six with the Wyoming state government — working or consulting on environmental issues for energy-related companies
Typically outdated samples such as those analyzed by the EPA must first be replaced with fresh samples, but that wasn’t done. Instead, estimates of the sample data were included in the EPA’s collection of information used in the draft report, and only referenced in lab data notes.

“Basically if you want to have valid laboratory results, you want to have them sampled within that certain time period,” Clarey said.

That flawed analysis contributed to half of the EPA’s testing of its deep monitoring wells. While the private drinking water wells got additional testing, the deep wells that provided critical data for the EPA’s conclusions were only tested twice, in October 2010 and April 2011.

Usually such reports are based on many more samples, Clarey said.

“Statistically you need to have 8-10 data points at a minimum,” Clarey said. “To only have those two — it’s not really a scientifically valid study.”

To properly test such water wells, they must be first purged three times to make sure fresh water from the surrounding formation flows in for testing, Clarey said.

“We ‘re not sure they produced out all the water that may have seeped out of the formation during the drilling process or well development,” Clarey said. “So we’re not even sure they’re getting an accurate formation sample.”

The EPA data indicates the agency only flushed the wells one-quarter of the amount needed, he said.

“Which is a no-no,” Clarey said. “That can invalidate the results and force someone from a regulatory agency to go back” to re-test.

Clarey also pointed out a photo in the draft report that shows a water truck that provided water for drilling the well. The report doesn’t indicate if the truck was tested for any contaminants before its water was used.

Also, several samples of distilled water placed with the well water samples showed some contamination — contamination that shouldn’t be in the samples and could indicate the well samples are marred, Clarey said.

The Star-Tribune submitted a series of questions to the EPA regarding Clarey’s questions and conclusions, the water truck photo and the agency’s own lab data report describing the outdated samples and contaminated control samples. The EPA didn’t directly answer the questions but reiterated its conclusion that hydraulic fracturing might have been responsible for some of the contamination found in the Pavillion wells.

“EPA’s analysis is that the best explanation for the chemical signature seen in monitoring wells is the release of hydraulic fracturing fluids into the aquifer above the production zone,” said EPA spokesman Rich Mylott in an email. “Hydraulic fracturing fluids were injected directly into the deeper part of the aquifer. The synthetic substances found in monitoring wells are known to be used in hydraulic fracturing fluids, are not naturally occurring, and many of them were used in the Pavillion field.”

Substances found in the samples from the monitoring wells — including acetone, tert-butyl alcohol, trimethylbenzenes and glycols — weren’t from materials used by the EPA in constructing the wells, Mylott said.

“The evidence indicates that EPA’s drilling activity did not contaminate the aquifer,” he said. “EPA and its contractor used stringent standards for the installation and development of the two monitoring wells, practices that addressed the possibility of influencing sampling results.”

The EPA is in the the midst of the public comment period and members of a follow-on peer review panel not affiliated with the EPA will be picked by a contractor using “criteria provided by the EPA,” said Mylott.

Clarey said the EPA’s data and its draft reports show there needs to be more investigation and sampling of the wells.
Gov. Matt Mead has called for a broader, state-led investigation along with the EPA, and has asked the EPA to consider including Wyoming expertise in its peer review.
“There’s some unusual things about the wells and people are asking some questions,” he said. “The EPA has to come forth with some answers or at least some explanation.”

6 thoughts on “EPA omitted embarrassing data from fracking report”

  1. Interesting facts and scenario, but insufficient to stop the EPA from accomplishing its political mission. They merely have to demonstrate that there are possibly parts per billion of something besides water in the tests that are potentially harmful at parts per hundred, and that the public doesn’t like the sound of enviornmntal injustice. The EPA never has to show the source of the part per trillion it measured or the reaonableness of the threat.

    Fracking is huge. They will keep at it, changing the rules when necesary, until they renderr it insignificant. Even putting aside the politics and misbegotten pseudoscience, it’s just what regulatrors do.

  2. I quote from the article: “EPA’s analysis is that the best explanation for the chemical signature seen in monitoring wells is the release of hydraulic fracturing fluids into the aquifer above the production zone,” said EPA spokesman Rich Mylott in an email.

    Is this the same thing as the IPCC deciding that the “best” explanation for global warming is CO2 since that is the only factor they are willing to accept? Plus, fracking occurs at depths well below the water table. Improperly installed standard well casings have leaked in the past, this has nothing to do with the fracking process itself, since this can happen to a standard gas or oil well. EPA is desperate to denounce fracking in some way. They are trying to leave giant bird shredders and square miles of glassy sunlight absorbers that don’t work when you need them as the only approved methods of generating power.

  3. Alice, they have to hedge because if they actually said “industry is responsible”, then it is a direct accusation that requires proof. Not only would they be legally and politcally obliged to bring charges, but the drillers could easily sue for libel based on the flimsy evidence.

  4. The article says the EPA says fracking “may have been responsible”? Is that really what they said, because one could equally argue “Nature may have been responsible”, an eco-terrorist may have been responsible”, etc. This is NOT science. Fortunately, Wyomingites seem to understand this.

    I agree with Ben–this seems headed to the fraudulent side.

    There are literally hundereds of ways ground water can be contaminated with a variety of chemicals. I suppose since most people get their water from the city tap, most people are unaware of this reality. I do understand the impulse to assign blame–new wells are expensive. We had to work around contamination from a minor earthquake that put sand and other contaminents in our well and cracked the casing. A new well is into the thousands of dollars. If blame can be assigned, maybe someone else can pay the cost.

  5. The EPA has extremely detailed and specific test methods for pretty much everything. If we want to deviate in the slightest, we need approval in a pre-test meeting. If a sample is not tested in time, not stabilized properly, or has a vapor space when filled, then it must be discarded. The reason for this is simple, samples degrade over time. Chlorine residual and pH must be taken immediately, BOD and COD must be iced and then rushed, and everything else breaks down over time.

    Add to that the fact that cross-sample contamination is a huge problem when you look on the ppb level. It is almost routine to discard and retest samples with impossible results (such as kerosene in potable water, gases you don’t have in your plant, or negative destruction efficiencies). With only two samples, one of which is known to be wrong, this begins to go from incompetent to fraudulent.

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