The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

EPA Should Withdraw Pavillion Report and Data

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted July 16, 2013

From time to time we hear it claimed that the oil and natural gas industry is somehow keeping federal officials from enforcing pertinent environmental laws or exercising due oversight. Conspiracy allegations no doubt make good fundraising fodder and surely boost one’s chances of gaining entrée to certain circles. 

Yet, EPA missteps in a handful of recent cases involving natural gas and hydraulic fracturing suggest something else: an agency that sometimes has acted hastily, imprudently, on a foundation of faulty science leading to unfounded conclusions.

Read about EPA backtracking in Parker County, Texas, and Dimock, Pa., for a couple of examples. This month API lodged comments with EPA in connection with another dubious action in Pavillion, Wyo. – where EPA said it found constituents from hydraulic fracturing fluid in its monitoring wells, claiming a possible link between fracturing and groundwater contamination.  EPA had to retreat when it was shown those findings resulted from poor scientific methodology. Significantly, EPA has said its flawed water testing from Pavillion won’t be a part of a comprehensive review of hydraulic fracturing currently under way.

In a letter to EPA, Erik Milito, API’s group director of upstream and industry operations, urges the agency to formally retract its Pavillion draft report and associated data – because work by EPA scientists and contractors in Pavillion appears to be a model for some parts of its national hydraulic fracturing review and because there remains “the potential to negatively impact the validity, findings, and conclusions of the larger National HF Study.” Milito:

 

“Any effort that may steer national and international policy decisions … should be well thought out, designed, and effectively implemented to answer relevant questions. Unfortunately, EPA’s Pavillion research … does not appear to have undergone this level of scientific rigor. Because of this failure, API continues to be concerned with the Draft Report and the associated flawed data.”

Key points made by API concerning EPA’s performance in Pavillion:

  • EPA’s monitoring wells were so poorly constructed it’s probable the chemicals identified by EPA as groundwater contaminants associated with hydraulic fracturing were in fact introduced into the subsurface by the improper well installation and the construction materials of the monitoring wells themselves.
  • Because of the flaws in the construction of EPA’s monitoring wells, any groundwater quality data obtained from these monitoring wells is unreliable and invalid.
  • EPA should formally withdraw the December 2011 Draft Report and all associated data and conclusions related to these monitoring wells.
  • Two EPA monitoring wells should be immediately abandoned because they are likely providing an ongoing source of groundwater impact, cannot provide reliable data on groundwater quality and they can’t be repaired for future sampling efforts.

Milito:

“Unfortunately, EPA’s work at Pavillion joins that of Parker County, Texas and Dimock, Pennsylvania, as examples of questionable science and flawed data leading to unsupported conclusions. This simply cannot be tolerated, particularly by the federal agency entrusted to protect human health and the environment by evaluating environmental risks based on the best available scientific information and sound scientific principles.”

Let’s underscore a point: Unless EPA publicly retracts its Pavillion research and data, the false perception could linger with the American public that oil and natural gas activity contaminated water there – given new life by red herring posts on social media platforms, other spurious public claims – maybe even in films where facts are less important than publicity. Milito:

“Until a formal retraction is undertaken, people in the United States and worldwide will continue to reference the EPA Pavillion work, making environmental policy decisions that are based on flawed data, even though the Draft Report will never be finalized nor formally peer reviewed although EPA has stated that they continue to standby this work and associated data.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.