As we reported this past December and January, last year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft report that linked contamination found in wells near Pavillion, Wyoming to the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. A report prepared for an oil and gas industry group, however, says the EPA study was deeply flawed.
The new report, prepared for the Washington-based Independent Petroleum Association of America by S.S. Papadopulos & Associates, Inc. of Bethesda, Maryland, concludes that EPA provided neither “sufficient data nor analysis to support most of the report’s conclusions.” It criticizes EPA’s study design, notes to a lack of background and baseline data for many key parameters, and points to analytical concerns that undermine the data cited in EPA’s report. All of the “lines of evidence” that EPA cited to support its findings — including the conclusion that fluids used in the fracking process have affected the area’s groundwater — can be explained with alternative hypotheses, according to the Papadopulos report.
Fracking involves the pumping of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals into underground rock formation (such as the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and New York) that contains natural gas. The high-pressure fluid creates cracks, or fractures, in the rock, allowing the trapped gas to escape, flow into the well and up to the surface.
The public comment period for EPA’s report, originally set to close in January and later extended to March 12, has been extended through October 2012. EPA is also delaying the convening of a peer review panel until the results of additional sampling done in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey are made public.
Paul M. Hauge is an Associate in the Gibbons Real Property & Environmental Department.