Mountain States

Mind the O-GAP: Fact-Checking OGAP’s Assertion of HF-Related Contamination in Wyo. Drinking Water

Unwilling to oppose the responsible development of clean-burning natural gas – and the jobs and revenue that go with it – on its own merits or in those specific terms, anti-energy groups continue to focus their attacks on disparaging the essential tools of the trade, if not having the courage to confront the trade itself.

That strategy, such as it is, was on display again last week, as the Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) issued a breathless press release to national energy reporters stating categorically that EPA had “confirmed” that materials used in the hydraulic fracturing process in Fremont County, Wyoming had “contaminated” local “drinking water.”

No evidence to support that claim was offered; no links to relevant EPA studies or reports were provided; no EPA experts were cited, named or quoted. And none of that seemed to matter, claimed OGAP, since it had it on good authority that “a group of over 70″ had been told by EPA that the contamination did occur, and that activities related to hydraulic fracturing were to blame. Case closed. QED.

Having established its (unverifiable) version of the facts, OGAP was quick to offer up a resolution: Ban hydraulic fracturing. And one way to do it, the group suggests, is to convince Congress to pass theDeGette/Casey anti-fracturing bill – a “critical” tool for “prohibit[ing] endangerment of drinking water,” even though hydraulic fracturing has not once in 60 years been credibly linked to any such endangerment.

As it turns out, the “facts” presented in the OGAP press release don’t quite measure up to the facts on the ground in Wyoming. What follows is a quick Q&A laying out what we currently know of the situation, what we do not, and what’s being done to ensure we get it right:

Q:        Did this EPA meeting actually take place? Did EPA officials say that fracturing activities contaminated local drinking water supplies?

A:         Yes it did. And no — they most certainly did not. Earlier this year, EPA was asked by residents of Pavillion, Wyo. to study the quality and composition of area aquifers – aquifers known to contain water of high-turbidity (cloudiness), a natural phenomenon wholly unrelated to energy exploration.

Having tested 40 separate wells, initial results from EPA indicated that in a few of those wells at least one “tentatively identified compound” (TIC) was found. A TIC, generally understood, is a compound that can be picked up by the analytical testing method, but not confirmed or adequately identified without further investigation.

The facts of the meeting are these: EPA made no claim that these TICs were in any way related to drilling; that they were in any way related to hydraulic fracturing; or that they posed a serious and/or immediate threat to human health.

Q:        When will EPA know for sure? Is it studying the issue further?

A:         Yes it is. But estimates of how long EPA will need to conduct a thorough study of the aquifer vary – with some suggesting the agency can produce a final report in weeks, and others claiming it might take much longer.

To help facilitate the process of gathering, distributing and exchanging critical information related to this investigation, area energy producers are working closely with EPA to ensure the agency has everything it needs to make a final, accurate determination.

Q:        The OGAP press release says this same thing happened in Colorado a few years back – causing the “Amos Well disaster.” Are they right?

A:         Laura Amos, a resident of Garfield Country, Colo., alleged in 2001 that her water well was contaminated by materials used to fracture several natural gas wells located near her house. Ms. Amosspecifically claimed these frac fluids contained the chemical 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE), and that she had been exposed to them.

On at least eight separate occasions between 2001 and 2005, staff from the Colorado Oil & Gas Compact Commission (COGCC) tested the Amos well for those materials, as well as for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX). After years of thorough investigation by the agency, however, Ms. Amos’s allegations were dismissed – with COGCC reaching the conclusion that frac fluids never reached the well.

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