The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Water and Fracking in Wyoming

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted December 9, 2011

We have received lots of questions about the draft EPA report yesterday regarding hydraulic fracturing and groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming.  We're looking at the report and will follow it throughout the review process, but for now we note the report is raising a number of questions. Most of the concerns so far focus on the scientific methodology behind the report. 

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW) points out:

1. EPA's monitoring wells were drilled into gas bearing zones (~900 ft and ~700ft) so the fact that methane, benzene and other hydrocarbons were detected at high levels is not surprising.

2. After several rounds of testing of private domestic water wells, only one organic compound was found to exceed State or Federal Drinking Water standards.  This compound is an additive in plastics and one of the most commonly detected organic compounds in water. 

3. The EPA's results raise serious quality assurance issues.  A peer-review would highlight this major issue.  For example:

A. The results between the EPA's domestic water wells and the EPA's deep monitoring wells are being confused. Tris (2-butoxyethyl) phosphate and 2-BE are two different compounds. Tris (2-butoxyethyl) phosphate was found in drinking water wells. This chemical is a common fire retardant used in association with plastics and plastic components used in drinking water wells.  Again, it is not 2-BE. Tris (2-butoxyethyl) phosphate isn't created by the combination of 2-BE and phosphate under the conditions found in Pavillion.  2BE-phosphate would break down in nature to its component parts; not the other way around.

B. In the EPA's deep monitoring wells, one in eight samples had a detection of 2-BE.  Two other EPA labs that measured for the same compound did not detect it in duplicate samples.  Inconsistency in detection combined with the fact that this compound is present in nearly all household and laboratory cleaning agents makes it just as likely that it's from sample contamination as hydraulic fracturing.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said:

"the Environmental Protection Agency's draft study on Pavillion wells is scientifically questionable and more testing is needed."

The governor's press release also wondered about a lack of replication of testing:

"(typically findings from only two sampling events suggest that more sampling is needed before conclusions can be drawn)"

And noted that:

"Members of the [Pavillion] working group also have questions about the compound 2-BE, which was found in 1 sample out of 4 that were taken, and why it was only found in results from one lab, while other labs tested the exact same water sample and did not find it."

Energy In Depth had questions as well:

1. Why the huge difference between what EPA found in its monitoring wells and what was detected in private wells from which people actually get their water?

2. After reviewing the data collected by Region 8, why did EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson tell a reporter that, specific to Pavillion, "we have absolutely no indication now that drinking water is at risk"? (video available here)

3. Did all those chemicals that EPA used to drill its monitoring wells affect the results?

4. Why is the author so confident that fracturing is to blame when most of his actual report focuses on potential issues with casing, cement and legacy pits?

5. 2-BE or not 2-BE? That is the question.

6. Is EPA getting enough potassium?

So as we said in the beginning, more questions than answers at this point.  Which doesn't mean that the report should be dismissed - it doesn't mean that at all. Neither EPA's process, nor the results have yet been peer reviewed, and the EPA is looking forward to  "having these findings in the draft report informed by a transparent and public review process." So are we.

More from the EPA:

The draft findings announced today are specific to Pavillion...Natural gas plays a key role in our nation's clean energy future and the Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that the development of this vital resource occurs safely and responsibly.

No one is more committed to safe and responsible operations than America's oil and natural gas producers, it is what we do every day.

Now what we need every day is responsible science and a responsible debate, not policies based on politics and hysteria, we are committed to those things too.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.