water, part two

Three reports on water quality caught my attention when I first dug deeper into what hydraulic fracturing is.The reports themselves raise questions perhaps more so than answer questions. What may be of equal interest is the response to these reports. Let me state that there are many more reports of contaminated water than what I highlight in this post, but these are the ones that got my attention to fracking, the controversy around the proliferation of the technology, and one key issue at a ‘crossroads’ of public policy.

The first report to catch my attention was the study conducted by Duke researchers. This represents the first peer-reviewed study to be published that looked at methane concentration in water wells in hydraulic fracturing areas. Notice that the study confirmed the presence of methane in the water wells with the isotopic signature from the Marcellus Shale, yet there was no other chemical signature of contamination from fracking activity.

Duke study observing correlation of methane in wells to fracking sites

One limitation acknowledged in the Duke study is the lack of ‘pre-drilling’ water quality data. As part of applying to the situation in NC with what we’ve learned elsewhere, USGS and Duke are combining for a thorough water quality sampling effort in and around the Triassic Basin in Chatham and Lee Counties.

The Duke study then led me to the case in Dimock, PA. The community is highlighted on the 60 Minutes piece linked on the Reference Sites in which residents are reporting their satisfaction for landowners to receive royalties, but the loss of water has dire circumstances. In the ProPublica article linked below, they cite that Cabot Oil & Gas, the gas developer operating in Dimock, was fined heavily for the contamination, pointing to faulty casing of the fracking well as the reason for the contamination. {Note: there are links in the ProPublica article to other water quality issues associated with natural gas drilling.}

ProPublica April 2009 article on Dimock, PA water contamination

As of December 2011, a request by Dimock residents was denied as the state DEP stated that Cabot had fulfilled its obligation. The EPA has since stepped in based on water quality tests revealing contamination levels of methane, arsenic, and other contaminants to provide bottled water. A description of the unfolding of these latest events is included in the article linked below from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

EPA steps into situation in Dimock to provide water

The EPA stepping in provides a nice segue to the third incident to catch my attention. In December 2011, the EPA released the draft report of the results of a study they conducted in Wyoming associated with the Pavillion Shale.Their analysis, done at the request of residents, verified the presence of synthetic chemicals associated with fracking as well as other chemicals in concentration greater than what is considered safe. These results did not link a direct cause to natural gas drilling, but merely indicates that the chemical signature seems to indicate possible migration of fracking fluids and hydrocarbons.

EPA release of draft of Pavillion Shale groundwater investigation

As I said at the top, what has been as eye-opening as the studies is the reactions. Yes, environmental groups have hailed these studies. And as mentioned in an earlier post on here, industry representatives have consistently questioned the integrity of these studies, whether on methodology, scientific procedure, etc – and they have almost repeated each other verbatim.

To me, what’s very curious is reading the reaction of the Pennsylvania DEP to the Duke study. The Secretary of the DEP, Michael Krancer, immediately dismissed the study – well, let me quote the response the Duke researchers wrote:

“When our paper came out, Krancer wasted no time in dismissing it, saying, “The bottom line is, it was biased science by biased researchers.”

That was baffling to us. The Department of Environmental Protection’s stated mission is “to protect Pennsylvania’s air, land, and water from pollution and to provide for the health and safety of its citizens through a cleaner environment.” Wouldn’t that include taking the time to understand what scientific results like ours mean, where they might apply, and what should be done in response? Instead, Krancer quickly set out to, as he put it, “refute” our study and others.” (see the full response here)

Meanwhile, the Governor of Wyoming sent a letter to the EPA requesting clarification on items, including a question about the choice of methodology used over that chosen by the state Department of Environmental Quality. I find the tone of his letter (see the link below) quite interesting, expressing concern for the state’s water and gas resources equally, but does not acknowledge the results of the draft at all.

Wyoming Governor letter to EPA

Note, the original schedule for comments on the Pavillion study was to close on January 27, 2012, but EPA has now extended that period to March 12. Energy-in-Depth, an outreach project developed by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, has been tracking the issue in the Pavillion. I also noted in a previous post the action taken by several U.S. Senators on this issue.

It’s getting a little tricky to determine who is serving the public interest, and how the public interest is defined…


One thought on “water, part two

  1. Pingback: Your Questions About Hardness Of Water Quality | Water Hardness

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