Journalism in the Public Interest

EPA’s Abandoned Wyoming Fracking Study One Retreat of Many

When the Environmental Protection Agency abruptly retreated on its investigation into water contamination in a central Wyoming natural gas field recently, it shocked environmentalists and energy industry supporters alike. Industry advocates see the EPA’s turnabout as an overdue recognition that it had over-reached on fracking. Environmentalists see an agency systematically disengaging from any research into the safety of drilling.


In this photo taken Nov. 8, 2007, John Fenton and others examine neighbor Louis Meeks' water in Pavillion, Wyo. (AP Photo/Casper Star-Tribune, Dustin Bleizeffer)

When the Environmental Protection Agency abruptly retreated on its multimillion-dollar investigation into water contamination in a central Wyoming natural gas field last month, it shocked environmentalists and energy industry supporters alike.

In 2011, the agency had issued a blockbuster draft report saying that the controversial practice of fracking was to blame for the pollution of an aquifer deep below the town of Pavillion, Wy. – the first time such a claim had been based on a scientific analysis.

The study drew heated criticism over its methodology and awaited a peer review that promised to settle the dispute. Now the EPA will instead hand the study over to the state of Wyoming, whose research will be funded by EnCana, the very drilling company whose wells may have caused the contamination.

Industry advocates say the EPA’s turnabout reflects an overdue recognition that it had over-reached on fracking and that its science was critically flawed.

But environmentalists see an agency that is systematically disengaging from any research that could be perceived as questioning the safety of fracking or oil drilling, even as President Obama lays out a plan to combat climate change that rests heavily on the use of natural gas.

Over the past 15 months, they point out, the EPA has:

  • Closed an investigation into groundwater pollution in Dimock, Pa., saying the level of contamination was below federal safety triggers.
  • Abandoned its claim that a driller in Parker County, Texas, was responsible for methane gas bubbling up in residents’ faucets, even though a geologist hired by the agency confirmed this finding.
  • Sharply revised downward a 2010 estimate showing that leaking gas from wells and pipelines was contributing to climate change, crediting better pollution controls by the drilling industry even as other reports indicate the leaks may be larger than previously thought.
  • Failed to enforce a statutory ban on using diesel fuel in fracking.

“We’re seeing a pattern that is of great concern,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. “They need to make sure that scientific investigations are thorough enough to ensure that the public is getting a full scientific explanation.”

The EPA says that the string of decisions is not related, and the Pavillion matter will be resolved more quickly by state officials. The agency has maintained publicly that it remains committed to an ongoing national study of hydraulic fracturing, which it says will draw the definitive line on fracking’s risks to water.

In private conversations, however, high-ranking agency officials acknowledge that fierce pressure from the drilling industry and its powerful allies on Capitol Hill – as well as financial constraints and a delicate policy balance sought by the White House -- is squelching their ability to scrutinize not only the effects of oil and gas drilling, but other environmental protections as well.

Last year, the agency’s budget was sliced 17 percent, to below 1998 levels. Sequestration forced further cuts, making research initiatives like the one in Pavillion harder to fund.

One reflection of the intense political spotlight on the agency: In May, Senate Republicans boycotted a vote on President Obama’s nominee to head the EPA, Gina McCarthy, after asking her to answer more than 1,000 questions on regulatory and policy concerns, including energy. 

The Pavillion study touched a particular nerve for Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the former ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.

According to correspondence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Inhofe demanded repeated briefings from EPA officials on fracking initiatives and barraged the agency with questions on its expenditures in Pavillion, down to how many dollars it paid a lab to check water samples for a particular contaminant.

He also wrote a letter to the EPA’s top administrator calling a draft report that concluded fracking likely helped pollute Pavillion’s drinking water “unsubstantiated” and pillorying it as part of an “Administration-wide effort to hinder and unnecessarily regulate hydraulic fracturing on the federal level.” He called for the EPA’s inspector general to open an investigation into the agency’s actions related to fracking.

When the EPA announced it would end its research in Pavillion, Inhofe – whose office did not respond to questions from ProPublica -- was quick to applaud.

“EPA thought it had a rock solid case linking groundwater contamination to hydraulic fracturing in Pavillion, WY, but we knew all along that the science was not there,” Inhofe said in a press release issued the day of the announcement.

Others, however, wonder whether a gun-shy EPA is capable of answering the pressing question of whether the nation’s natural gas boom will also bring a wave of environmental harm. 

“The EPA has just put a ‘kick me’ sign on it,” John Hanger, a Democratic candidate for governor in Pennsylvania and the former secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, wrote on his blog in response to the EPA news about Pavillion. “Its critics from all quarters will now oblige.”


Before fracking became the subject of a high-stakes national debate, federal agencies appeared to be moving aggressively to study whether the drilling technique was connected to mounting complaints of water pollution and health problems near well sites nationwide.

As some states began to strengthen regulations for fracking, the federal government prepared to issue rules for how wells would be fracked on lands it directly controlled.

The EPA also launched prominent scientific studies in Texas, Wyoming and Pennsylvania, stepping into each case after residents voiced concerns that state environmental agencies had not properly examined problems.

The EPA probe in Pavillion began in 2008 with the aim of determining whether the town’s water was safe to drink. The area was first drilled in 1960 and had been the site of extensive natural gas developmentsince the 1990’s. Starting at about the same time, residents had complained of physical ailments and said their drinking water was black and tasted of chemicals.

The EPA conducted four rounds of sampling, first testing the water from more than 40 homes and later drilling two deep wells to test water from layers of earth that chemicals from farming and old oil and gas waste pits were unlikely to reach.

The sampling revealed oil, methane, arsenic, and metals including copper and vanadium – as well as other compounds --in shallow water wells. It also detected a trace of an obscure compound linked to materials used in fracking, called 2-butoxyethanol phosphate (2-BEp).

The deep-well tests showed benzene, at 50 times the level that is considered safe for people, as well as phenols -- another dangerous human carcinogen -- acetone, toluene, naphthalene and traces of diesel fuel, which seemed to show that man-made pollutants had found their way deep into the cracks of the earth. In all, EPA detected 13 different compounds in the deep aquifer that it said were often used with hydraulic fracturing processes, including 2-Butoxyethanol, a close relation to the 2-BEp found near the surface.[1]

The agency issued a draft report in 2011 stating that while some of the pollution in the shallow water wells was likely the result of seepage from old waste pits nearby, the array of chemicals found in the deep test wells was “the result of direct mixing of hydraulic fracturing fluids with ground water in the Pavillion gas field.”

The report triggered a hailstorm of criticism not only from the drilling industry, but from state oil and gas regulators, who disagreed with the EPA’s interpretation of its data. They raised serious questions about the EPA’s methodology and the materials they used, postulating that contaminants found in deep-well samples could have been put there by the agency itself in the testing process.

In response, the EPA agreed to more testing and repeatedly extended the comment period on its study, delaying the peer review process.

Agency officials insist their data was correct, but the EPA’s decision to withdraw from Pavillion means the peer-review process won’t go forward and the findings in the draft report will never become final.

“We stand by what our data said,” an EPA spokesperson told ProPublica after the June 20 announcement, “but I do think there is a difference between data and conclusions.”

Wyoming officials say they will launch another year-long investigation to reach their own conclusions about Pavillion’s water.

Meanwhile, local residents remain suspended in a strange limbo.

While controversy has swirled around the deep well test results -- and critics have hailed the agency’s retreat as an admission that it could not defend its science -- the shallow well contamination and waste pits have been all but forgotten.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the federal government’s main agency for evaluating health risk from pollution, has advised Pavillion residents not to bathe, cook with, or drink the water flowing from their taps. Some have reported worsening health conditions they suspect are related to the pollution. They are being provided temporary drinking water from the state in large cisterns.


The EPA opened its inquiry in Dimock, Pa., after residents provided it with private water tests detecting contaminants and complained that state regulators weren’t doing enough to investigate the cause.

When an elderly woman’s water well exploded on New Year’s morning in 2009, Pennsylvania officials discovered pervasive methane contamination in the well water of 18 homes and linked it to bad casing and cementing in gas company wells. In 2010, they took a series of steps against the drilling company involved, citing it for regulatory violations, barring it from new drilling until it proved its wells would not leak and requiring it to temporarily supply water to affected homes.

But residents said state officials hadn’t investigated whether the drilling was responsible for the chemicals in their water. The EPA stepped in to find out if residents could trust the water to be safe after the drilling company stopped bringing replacement supplies.

Starting in early 2012, federal officials tested water in more than five dozen homes for pollutants, finding hazardous levels of barium, arsenic and magnesium, all compounds that can occur naturally, and minute amounts of other contaminants, including several known to cause cancer.

Still, the concentration of pollutants was not high enough to exceed safe drinking water standards in most of the homes, the EPA found (in five homes, filtering systems were installed to address concerns). Moreover, none of the contaminants – except methane -- pointed clearly to drilling. The EPA ended its investigation that July.

Critics pointed to the Dimock investigation as a classic example of the EPA being overly aggressive on fracking and then being proven wrong.

Yet, as in Pavillion, the agency concluded its inquiry without following through on the essential question of whether Dimock residents face an ongoing risk from too much methane, which is not considered unsafe to drink, but can produce fumes that lead to explosions.

The EPA also never addressed whether drilling – and perhaps the pressure of fracking – had contributed to moving methane up through cracks in the earth into their water wells.

As drilling has resumed in Dimock, so have reports of ongoing methane leaks. On June 24, the National Academy of Sciences published a report by Duke University researchers that underscored a link between the methane contamination in water in Dimock and across the Marcellus shale, and the gas wells being drilled deep below.

The gas industry maintains that methane is naturally occurring and, according to a response issued by the industry group Energy In Depth after the release of the Duke research, “there’s still no evidence of hydraulic fracturing fluids migrating from depth to contaminate aquifers.”


In opening an inquiry in Parker County, Texas, in late 2010, the EPA examined a question similar to the one it faced in Dimock: Was a driller responsible for methane gas bubbling up in residents’ water wells?

This time, though, tests conducted by a geologist hired by the agency appeared to confirm that the methane in the wells had resulted from drilling, rather than occurring naturally.

"The methane that was coming out of that well … was about as close a match as you are going to find," said the consultant, Geoffrey Thyne, a geochemist and expert in unconventional oil and gas who has been a member of both the EPA’s Science Advisory Board for hydraulic fracturing, and a National Research Council committee to examine coalbed methane development.

The EPA issued an “imminent and substantial endangerment order” forcing Range Resources, the company it suspected of being responsible, to take immediate action to address the contamination.

But once again, the EPA’s actions ignited an explosive response from the oil and gas industry, and a sharp rebuke from Texas state officials, who insisted that their own data and analysis proved Range had done no harm.

According to the environmental news site Energy Wire, Ed Rendell, the former Governor of Pennsylvania, whose law firm lobbies on behalf of energy companies, also took up Range’s case with then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Internal EPA emails used in the EnergyWire report and also obtained by ProPublica discuss Rendell’s meeting with then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, though Range has denied it employed Rendell to argue on its behalf. Neither the EPA nor Rendell responded to a request for comment on the Parker County case.

In March 2012, the EPA dropped its case against Range without explanation. Its administrator in Texas at the time had been assailed for making comments that seemed to show an anti-industry bias. He subsequently lost his job. An Associated Press investigation found that the EPA abandoned its inquiry after Range threatened not to cooperate with the EPA on its other drilling-related research.

Agency critics see a lack of will, rather than a lack of evidence, in the EPA’s approach in Parker County and elsewhere.

“It would be one thing if these were isolated incidents,” said Alan Septoff, communications director for Earthworks, an environmental group opposed to fracking. “But every time the EPA has come up with something damning, somehow, something magically has occurred to have them walk it back.”


So where does this leave the EPA’s remaining research into the effects of fracking?

The agency has joined with the Department of Energy, U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Interior to study the environmental risks of developing unconventional fuels such as shale gas, but those involved in the collaboration say that little has happened.

That leaves the EPA’s highly anticipated national study on hydraulic fracturing.

When the EPA announced it was ending its research in Pavillion, it pointed to this study as a “major research program.”

“The agency will look to the results of this program as the basis for its scientific conclusions and recommendations on hydraulic fracturing," it said in a statement issued in partnership with Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead.

That national study will concentrate on five case studies in Pennsylvania, Texas, North Dakota and Colorado.

It will not, however, focus on Pavillion or Parker County or Dimock.

Nor will it devote much attention to places like Sublette County, Wy., where state and federal agencies have found both aquifer contamination and that drilling has caused dangerous levels of emissions and ozone pollution.

It will be a long time before the EPA’s national study can inform the debate over fracking. While the agency has promised a draft by late 2014, it warned last month that no one should expect to read the final version before sometime in 2016, the last full year of President Obama’s term.

Byard Pidgeon

July 3, 2013, 12:33 p.m.

Is anyone truly surprised by this? When the stakes get high enough, the Demopublicans always do the bidding of corporate interests, just as the Republicrats do. We do not have opposing parties when it comes to corporate interests vs public interests…corporate wins.

The real question is WHY are the Oil Co.s so god-damned dead set on injecting toxic chemical cocktails into the ground to extract “natural gas”, when there are so many other, better ways to acquire that energy…???...
Why poison the water of the American people, just to make a few quick bucks…???...

John Hanger’s “Hi, I work for the EPA, KICK ME!” description is apt and extremely sad.  Many citizens of the United States look to the Federal Government to save them from the thoroughly corrupt environmental crimes perpetrated by State and local governments.  Since I became of age during the Civil Rights movement, I think of Eisenhower sending in the troops to fend off the racists in Arkansas, and, I wish I could think of a lot more our Federal Government did to overcome the racist policies, and laws of many of the same States that now are performing in similar fashion in relation to the environment.

Here’s the brief timeline to Pavillion, Wy, as I remember it.  Fenton, Meeks et all complain to the Wyoming “environmental protection” agency about the contamination of their water wells.  Wyoming asks Encana to perform the tests to find out!  Encana responds “no problem, no contamination”.  Wyoming tells the residents, “no problem, no contamination”.  Residents complain to US EPA.  EPA steps in and performs a three year, three part study finding damning evidence at every step.  EPA announces it will back off and let Wyoming do the work.  Encana will fund it.

KICK ME! is far too polite a response to the Obama US EPA.  As Dave Letterman said, “Ladies and Gentlmen, we’re screwed!”. 

The question is:  “What are we going to do about it”?  If the EPA won’t do it’s job, if Obama won’t do his job, the “stuff” is going to hit the fan, because impacted residents are not going to bend over any more.

Helen Bitaxis

July 3, 2013, 1:54 p.m.

The answer to your question, Bradford, is the last part of that question.  Drop the word “just” and substitute “obscene amount of” for the word “few”!  Another more concise answer to the question is simply GREED.  Those affected by that disease, have been blinded to any collateral effects of their actions, blinded by the glowing dollar $$$$ signs.

Dawn Dannenbring

July 3, 2013, 1:58 p.m.

The EPA says the Pavillion matter will be resolved more quickly by state officials.  Speed isn’t the primary concern here.  Getting to the truth is.  Leaving the research up to the state of Wyoming which is funded by EnCana—the very company charged with the pollution is the poster child of the fox guarding the hen house.

It is noteworthy that in the very next paragraph of this article, we discover that in private conversations, high-ranking officials acknowledge fierce pressure from the drilling industry and its powerful allies on Capitol Hill.

Follow the money trail.

A far larger retreat is in the works.

Obama’s EPA greenhouse gas control regulatory strategy relies on State’s and is designed to provide maximum flexibility to states to implement coast effective controls they include in State Implementation Plans under the Clean Air Act.

This is institutionalizing the Wyoming corruption in EPA regulations.

The Obama plan is designed to fail.

And the NRDC is cheerleading that effort.

How can theory possibly do that when they correctly understand the fatal flaws of reliance on states in regulating fracking?

Obama won’t rank among our laudatory presidents.

This is really sad. Truly.

Perhaps the Administration and EPA should come up with a rope-a-dope technique; establish mandatory minimum standards for clean drinking water. Should be easy enough, right? This is America, where we spend billions every year on bottled water because tap water doesn’t taste good.

Then simply test the tap water in a random sampling of homes and businesses in communities reporting problems. If the tap water doesn’t meet the standards, be sure to let the local citizenry know and add the city/town to a master list of places where the water is bad.

Personally, I think frakking is stupid. It’s inefficient. It’s dirty. It’s probably more dangerous than we know. But the real issue is citizens being poisoned by dangerous water. Doesn’t matter if the cause is frakking, conventional drilling, or runoff from an old fertilizer plant from the 70s.

Confirm the water is bad. Notify the citizenry. Let the shills face their constituents and explain why clean water, staple of any modern society isn’t a priority to them.

Bruce J Fernandes

July 3, 2013, 3:41 p.m.

Unfortunately, there are too many snotty elitists that buy into global warming or climate change blindly in an effort to move forward with an agenda of COMPLETE control over people’s lives.

ProPublica in an effort to control a liberal agenda in this regard fails to fully disclose all the facts with regard for fracking. 

Look, we already know liberals do not want any wealth creation in America preferring to compel Americans to line up at government windows for all they have and all they will ever have.  Liberals would like it even better if we would all get on our knees and thank government for providing for all of us.

The fact is energy production in this country will regenerate trillions of wealth back into this economy.  Safety must be first priority but ProPublica fails to disclose just how interested the energy industry is in safety knowing the Nazi guard at EPA will destroy the industry if given the chance.

I am one of those that is benefiting greatly from the resurgence of the energy production sector as a shareholder in many of the companies on the leading edge. 

I know liberals would prefer all of us paying through the nose for energy and gasoline ala Europe…. look at the liberal toilet Europe has become and its time to do a rethink on the entire proposition of government intervention in anything.

You liberals should better spend your time implementing ObamaCare aka Free Healthcare for people of color as a form of reparations.  You can’t get that right and now you want these same bozos to fiddle around with energy?

Closed an investigation into groundwater pollution in Dimock, Pa., saying the level of contamination was below federal safety triggers.

What does that have to do with “disengaging” from research that could question the safety of fracking? The EPA came in, tested the water in Dimmock and found it to be perfectly safe. What more do you expect them to do? Its almost like you wanted them to find something to justify your journalistic crusade.

Abandoned its claim that a driller in Parker County, Texas, was responsible for methane gas bubbling up in residents’ faucets, even though a geologist hired by the agency confirmed this finding.

The conclusions from Geoffrey Thyne’s report were not universally shared by the EPA’s experts some of who believed the source of the methane was the Strawn (a much shallower deposit) and not Barnett shale. Perhaps the EPA would have had more credibility (by all sides) had Al Armendariz not been caught red handed coordinating with local activists opposed to gas drilling.  It would be relevant to mention (not surprising you didn’t) that Parker County has seen high methane levels in their ground water that predates O&G activities. But then again, Armendariz was looking for someone to “crucify” as an example, so I suppose Range made a good target.

Sharply revised downward a 2010 estimate showing that leaking gas from wells and pipelines was contributing to climate change, crediting better pollution controls by the drilling industry even as other reports indicate the leaks may be larger than previously thought.

By other reports I assume you are referring to the Howarth study which was so flawed it was trashed in its peer review process for among other things, Howarth’s counting methane used to power stationary equipment (a significant fraction) as a leak? You also failed to mention several other recent independent studies that support the EPA’s findings. So its not “other reports” its “other report” .. singular, not plural.

Agency officials insist their data was correct, but the EPA’s decision to withdraw from Pavillion means the peer-review process won’t go forward and the findings in the draft report will never become final.

Why not mention the EPA’s sampling procedures were so widely criticized that the USGS came in to independently verify the results but couldn’t? Criticisms of improper well construction, cross-contamination of groundwater during the EPA’s drilling and sampling, and misrepresentation of the relative depths of monitoring wells and drinking water well depths were all substantiated when the USGS’s results came out.

I was one of the folks (I’m with the WY Dept of Env Quality) interviewed for this article by Mr. Lustgarten. I spent several hours on the phone and around a dozen follow up emails to try and help him write a factual article. Unfortunately he seemed to have his own agenda. The one error that was most blatant from my perspective was the “20 mile long plume” that he mentions. I must have told him 5 times that it was individual impacts to separate water wells due to water well drilling practices “ not related to oil and gas drilling at all“ but that did not make it into his article that way. - Mark Thiesse, Wyoming groundwater regulator

Once again, you do a great job of finding what you want to find, but unfortunately for your readers you leave a great deal of material that contradicts your preconceived conclusions on the cutting room floor.

BJF, shill much?

V. Well written column full of grave import for all of us with excellent letter responses below it (except the pathetically shameful & shameless detritus of an anti-lib screed by Bruce J Fernandez who not only admits but glories in his & others greed motivation!!)
What is tragic about all this is that weve now advanced so far down the G.W.road already that we actually may now be in the unfortunate position of being forced to accept this water-pollution risk to mass-produce this wretchedly - obtained nat’l gas as a cleaner-burning interim energy source to save our asses from a excess carbon burning that’s roasting our planet!!  Given what that’s likely already doing to our dwindling fresh-water supplies - well suddenly The Road Warrior scenario doesn’t look so far fetched these days now does it??

I don’t understand why there is any discussion here…if someone is actively engaged in actions they know full well will kill people its called ‘attempted murder’. Charge the executives of the companies and theEPA under a civil suit, with murder….
Let them try to prove their innocents before a jury of peers :-)

I’ve been trained as a scientist; attacking the methodology of a given study is THE easiest way to discredit any study. So when I hear these kinds of attacks on an EPA study it’s a pretty good sign that someone is trying to muddy the waters. It’s very similar to attacks on global warming science, in that no one can prove anything without some kind of study, and if there is no agreement on methodology, there can be no study. Obviously, bureaucrats are averse to conflict, their world deals with the quiet shuffling of paperwork. Obama is a pretty good example, he never fights for anything!
I have dealt with water quality in the past, and the primary response I always got with water officials was “it meets the minimum standards”. Are minimum standards the best we can hope for? People have to stand their ground on this (fracking and water quality). Until you are pissed off, nothing will happen to make it any better. The EPA is obviously not concerned if you have poisoned water.
In science parlance, there is such a thing as a meta-study. This is a study of studies, it does not do original research but it takes related research and correlates them. Part of the problem here is that the studies are considered unique to each part of the country, Pennsylvania is different from Wyoming. But the thing they have in common, fracking, is present in both cases. And to my mind, that makes a unifying theory, worthy of investigation.

Steve Hopkins

July 4, 2013, 7:32 a.m.

Still love this country, despite what’s happening to it. Here’s a song to scream out on our hijacked nation’s birthday:

Joseph Wilson

July 4, 2013, 9:55 a.m.

As a common sense conservative, I can only conclude that the fix is is at the federal level.

It could only be political matters that allowed EPA from not concluding the effort in Wyoming and putting to rest forever the oft repeated lie “there is no proof ... ad naseum.  Likewise perhaps the water qulaity in Dimock did eventually get back to minimum standards, but after those two casings failed there is no question that the water from the ground was neither fit to drink or for household use for several years.  And some of those home had to be vented in order to keep fumes from accumulating which would have resulted in explosions.

As a resident of NYS, my concern is that EPA is succumbing to political pressures and that their study is to be so seriously weakened that it will not support our concerns for the safety of the one great resource our state is blessed with—lots of clean, clear water.

There is little to nothing to substantially disagree with in Mr. Lustgarten’s article, yet, Mike H tries his biogenic, naturally occurring, industry talking point , methane best. 

“Agency officials insist their data was correct, but the EPA’s decision to withdraw from Pavillion means the peer-review process won’t go forward and the findings in the draft report will never become final.” 

There is nothing to disagree with in that statement above.  This action by the EPA is a total abdication of Federal responsibility to the citizens of Pavillion, the United States, and the World.  The fact that it is happening after 5 years of work, and millions of taxpayer dollars spent, just prior to the final buzzer, should be taken as a punch to our collective faces.

The fact that Mike H, and industry, never express concern for the Mr. Meeks, Fentons, Carters, or thousands of other victims, is because they are hell bent on never admitting any responsibility, for any contamination they have caused.  That they take it a giant step further, by accusing the victims of lying, and the EPA (when the evidence, such as in Pavillion, Wy is damning), of shoddy practice, is malicious.

Really.  Whom are citizens to believe, the climate change deniers who are happy to broil the planet in order to enrich themselves, or, the facts on the ground, and the victims who are suffering from those facts?

Sharon Wilson

July 4, 2013, 1:45 p.m.

Dear Mike H,

Al Armendariz was not “caught red handed coordinating with local activists opposed to gas drilling.”

Range Resource tried very hard to make that link but there was none so they failed. I should know because I was subpoenaed, dragged through a hearing and a 6-hour, ridiculous deposition that was designed to try to scare me.

In case you didn’t know, the higher court threw out Range’s claim that activists conspired to defame them because there was ZERO evidence of that. There was ZERO communication between Armendariz and any activists prior to his announcement and there was ZERO communication between activists. But never let the facts get in the way.

It would also be relevant to mention that Larry Peck, who has been drilling wells in Parker County, testified that there was no methane in the Lipsky well when he drilled it and that “high methane levels” in water wells is rare in Parker County per his sworn deposition. In fact, he testified that he required the Powell Barnett New Letter to retract their misquote from him about that.

It’s amazing what you can learn reading deposition and court transcripts.

Re Parker County:  Keep watching.

The remainder of your comment is equally false.

Dear Mike H

(I’m with the WY Dept of Env Quality)

Aren’t you the same agency that said Louis Meeks had the most tested well water in the state and there was nothing wrong with it?

And now you are contending the WY DEQ is actually going to study to see if fracking by ENCana polluted those same water wells?

I don’t believe you not for an inch.

I’m glad Sharon Wilson corrected “Mike H” on the Texas case.  Now, I’ll correct Mr. H on the Dimock one. 

First, it is utterly self serving that he refers to the five year/ multi-stage, EPA Pavillion investigation findings as bogus, while referring to a five month or less, one time, water test of the impacted Dimock water wells, as a definitive declaration the water is “perfectly safe”.  He ridicules the five year long one that goes against the industry, and supports the five month long one that refuses to term the drinking water “unsafe”.  What a surprise. 

Mike H falsely characterizes the EPA findings as a declaration the Dimock water is “perfectly safe”, when the EPA simply could not, due to the lack of science on the subject, term it “unsafe”.  There is a huge difference.  Of the 85,000 or so chemicals industry is allowed to dump into our environment and our bodies, how many have established maximum levels of exposure, five or six?  How many chemicals have been even broadly researched, less than one hundred?

The EPA can call 50 ppb of benzene “unsafe”, because it has an established maximum level of 5 ppb.  So, how could the EPA have called the Dimock water “unsafe” if most of the chemicals found don’t have any such safety guidelines established?  As a reminder, PADEP held Cabot responsible for contaminating the Dimock wells, for a period of three years, simply from Cabot’s drilling and failed casing, not the frac’ing process.  That is how dangerous, and potentially contaminating, the shale gas extraction drilling process is.  It can contaminate a nine square mile area, without even frac’ing, as it did in the Dimock case.  Also, the methane contamination in that nine square mile area was thermogenic (production) methane, not biogenic.

We know that the explosive level of methane in fresh water is about 28mg/L.  Some Dimock water wells had a greater reading, and a high of 52mg/L at the time of the EPA testing?  Should the fact that your house can explode, bursting into flames, be termed “perfectly safe”?  The EPA can’t call that water, “unsafe” to drink, however.  Only industry, and Mike H, are willing to call it “perfectly safe”.

The EPA can not continue without fraudulent acts of contamination. It should be obvious to the most casual observer that the EPA is struggling to ‘find’ elements that are all natural in amounts they can attempt to use to find fault with a process that has been successful for over 40 years. Most, if not all the scenarios characterized in the article have been conclusively determined to have no adverse relationship to fracking. Yet the incompetent environmental groups simply can’t let go of their fake and fraudulent claims. I guess they could become ‘bobble warmer’ frauds.

However, over the course of thousands of wells, only a fool would maintain that no mistakes or accidents have occurred.

Like flying planes, driving cars and most other activities, the small risk level is tolerated because of the substantial positive over all results.

Trevor Edmond

July 4, 2013, 6:04 p.m.

When your air is un breatheable, when your water is undrinkable and your food is uneatable where will you go what will you do?
America under seige.

Long live democracy.

Bruce J Fernandes

July 4, 2013, 6:11 p.m.


Thanks for confirming the true liberal agenda which is to empower liberal politicians to stop wealth creation in its tracks.  Liberals don’t believe in democracy…. after all, two of Obama’s top aides confessed their admiration for Chairman Mao.

I bet they wish Obama had that kind of power to re-order the entire US to conform to his elitist, socialist, redistributionist agenda.

You were the same people that said soldiers should not fight and die in wars for oil.

All you liberals have to do is confess your desire to destroy the US economy because you believe your green agenda is the ONLY correct agenda to pursue.  Tell Americans who work in energy-related industries not to worry, you will get welfare, food stamps, retraining, etc. so be grateful that big government will take care of you from cradle to grave.

Sharon Wilson

July 4, 2013, 6:24 p.m.


Per Congressional testimony given by Dr. William F. Whitsitt, Executive VP for Devon Energy, the two technologies, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, were “married” in 2002. So your claim that fracking “has been successful for over 40 years” does not pertain to the current type of fracking which is a very new technology that is still in the experimental stage.

I lived in Wise County where Mitchell experimented to make this very new technology economical so I have direct experience living with this type of energy extraction.

Please know that 2BE, MTBE, toluene, benzene, polyacrylamides and many of the other chemicals being detected do not occur naturally in water.

In Wise County, where this all started, the Ruggiero family had baseline testing of their water shortly before drilling started and their water was clean and safe. See for yourself Ecology Water Test September 2009.pdf

Shortly after fracking, followup water testing showed that their water was contaminated with very high levels of MTBE. See for yourself Ecology Water Test March 2010.pdf MTBE is an additive in diesel fuel and it does not occur naturally in water.

A Congressional investigation found that between 2005 and 2009, 32 MILLION gallons of diesle was used in fracking fluid in the US. Half of that—16 MILLION gallons—was used in Texas.

The Ruggeiros sued the operator. The court records say there was a settlement. The Ruggieros no longer live there and they no longer speak about the matter.

There is ONLY one reason industry and their many apologists can continue to say there is no proof that fracking causes contamination. That’s because the trail of contamination is hidden behind non-disclosure agreements. Families give up their 1st amendment right so they can get to safety.

Here’s how that works:
1. Industry & our government says there is no documented proof…
2. Landowners, often at their own expense, have environmental testing and obtain proof.
3. Landowners only recourse is to file a lawsuit. This is creating a litigious society where regular people are forced to compete with an industry with deep pockets.
4. The lawsuit is settled out of court and the documents are sealed. That means no one—journalists, scientists, lawmakers—can know the truth about what happened.
5. Industry & our government says there is no documented proof…

This won’t last. Opposition grows exponentially with expansion.

Sharon Wilson

July 4, 2013, 6:30 p.m.

Dear Bruce J Fernandes,

The Ruggieros where life-long Republicans. They are like many others, including me, whose direct experience of fracking changed their minds.

I worked for industry for 12 years.
I am a 5th generation Texas landowner.
I am a mineral owner.
I drove a pickup with a gun rack.
I am a gun owner.
I am an expert horsewoman.
I can rope and drive a tractor.
I oppose fracking.

Keep making such wild, idiotic statements because it only helps show who the real radicals are.

I would add “multi-stage”, and “high volume” to the “marriage” of HF and HD in 2002, that Ms. Wilson referred to.  Another VP, Kristi Gittens of Chief Oil and Gas, stated to me personally that she was present at the first horizontal well, of that type, drilled in the Barnett Shale, at that time.

That the frac’ing supporters are still trying to deceive people by equating the single stage, vertical well frac’ing introduced commercially by Halliburton around 1948, to that introduced in 2002 (and only ramped up in practice post Cheney Energy Bill passed by Congress on July 29, 2005), is yet another industry talking point lie of the same magnitude as, “it’s only sand and water”, in relation to the frac’ing fluid. 

According to testimony given by the Ground Water Protection Council, in June of 2009, during a Congressional Committee hearing, the “slick water” fluid used contains between one half percent, and two percent chemical additives.  Industry figures describe a minimum of one million gallons of fresh water employed per 1,000 feet of lateral, so, on a 5,000 foot lateral, frac’ed multistage, somewhere between 25,000 gallons and 100,000 gallons of chemicals are added to the water for a single frac job on that horizontal length.  A well pad will easily have more than 8 gas wells.  The amount of chemical exposure via air, or water, imposed upon the residents nearby, is an extremely serious threat to their health. 

The wells prior to 2002 barely wasted 75,000 gallons of fresh water in their whole drilling and frac’ing operation.  High volume, and length of lateral, matter in relation to every stage of the operation, from size of well pad, to number of trucks, to duration of operation, to the amount of fresh water and chemicals used. 

The terrible fact that all this operation is permitted, and encouraged by every state’s environmental regulatory agency, to occur within a couple of hundred feet of a person’s residence, and drinking water well, is outrageous.  Rather, It should be criminalized for what it is:  reckless endangerment.  Many victims would testify to this, but, they all have to sign “confidentiality agreements” in order to enable them to get money for the loss of their home, and to move to safety.  Almost all.  We’ll see how it plays out in the Texas case.

Confidentiality agreements should not be allowed by our court system.  It enables the liars to cover their tracks.

Neil Fairhead

July 4, 2013, 8 p.m.

Does anybody have a simpler phrase than “conflict of interest”? Some find it hard to read words with more than one syllable (my bad)!

“In private conversations, however, high-ranking (EPA) agency officials acknowledge that fierce pressure from the drilling industry and its powerful allies on Capitol Hill – as well as financial constraints and a delicate policy balance sought by the White House—is squelching their ability to scrutinize not only the effects of oil and gas drilling, but other environmental protections as well.”
The thieves in Washington are winning. We the people are losing.

Edmund Singleton

July 5, 2013, 5:42 a.m.

Is franking safe and does it contaminate ground water?

EPA?  What EPA?  ELA perhaps… Environmental Lip-service Agency

Abrahm Lustgarten

July 5, 2013, 12:29 p.m.

To Mike H:

I’d like to address two factual assertions you make in your comments. First, my reference in the article to other conflicting estimates of greenhouse gas emissions does not, as you assume, reference Robert Howarth’s academic studies. Rather I am thinking of the now-numerous research projects by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in Colorado, Louisiana, and elsewhere. You can begin to read about them here:

Secondly, you copied a complaint by another third person, Mark Theisse, about my article that stems from 2008. Unfortunately Mr. Theisse’s views were not supported factually at the time by the U.S> Bureau of Land Management, or the U.S. EPA. In 2008 the EPA withheld approval for drilling in the referenced area under the National Environmental Policy Act and issued a series of letters and reports describing sever aquifer contamination in Sublette County, WY over a 28 mile stretch, exactly as I described it in my articles five years ago. Mr. Theisse’s views about the source and extent of that contamination have not been substantiated in the more than three years of follow-up research that was done at the site since he made that comment.

Edmund Singleton

July 5, 2013, 12:37 p.m.

You did not answer the question…

To Edmund Singleton:

Franking (postage stamps), is safe.

If you meant “fracking”, the answers are:  No.  Sometimes. 

By “Fracking”, I am referring to the entire process of HVSWMSHF into shale and other tight formations.

I would like to thank Abrahm Lustgarten for responding to Mike H’s attempt to undermine the important research data that is coming out in relation to fugitive methane emission percentages.  Industry types like Mike H use the Howarth/Santoro/Ingraffea projections (and that is what they are, educated projections, not a scientific report) to cast doubt on the huge problem the industry faces.  It has turned out that the Howarth projections are very conservative to what is scientifically being measured.

Mr. Lustgarten gives one link, here is another:

A short quote from the article:  “In his analysis, Peischl found that the methane leak rate from Los Angeles-area oil and gas operations was 17 percent. This is high; leakage rates of “fugitive emissions” from oil and gas drilling operations are currently estimated at 4 percent by U.S. EPA (ClimateWire, April 4).”

Howarth/Santoro/Ingraffea wrote:  “Natural gas is composed largely of methane, and 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the lifetime of a well…”.

As everyone can see, there is nothing off about the Howarth projections, except that they are very conservative, as I mentioned.

Tests have been done, and are ongoing, that measure the methane escaping from infrastructure such as rural pipelines, compressors, pipelines in cities (the distribution part of the equation).  Once these fugitive emissions are added to the production field part of the equation, Howarth’s initial projections will be more than vindicated.

Damascus Citizens for Sustainability has been working with Gas Safety Inc.,
a company that has been at the forefront in such measurement studies of fugitive methane emissions in our cities (Boston and New York City, for example).  A great deal of work is currently being performed which will enlighten people on this important issue.

The industry PR that attempts to discredit the science being performed on this subject, is simply another attempt at character assassination, in this case, Howarth/Santoro/Ingraffea.  The problem for the industry, is that the science has progressed far beyond those brave professors.

Clearly, President Obama has shifted so far to the right that he has ceased to feel the need to demonstrate any faith or belief in science—as his stance on issues of environment and methane drilling has shifted squarely to a “states’ rights"problem, beating a cowardly retreat, with all local governments bought off, corrupt and without the resources to truly protect their citizens.  Apparently, “plausible deniability” and this fashion of governing is inherited with the oath of office.  Now, what do we do?  Applaud the passage of the staggering healthcare costs to states so they can exert their rights to ignore human suffering along with science? As someone who treats daily children born with birth defects, I feel nothing but grief at this behavior—is it the children’s fault?  The late former governor of Texas, Anne Richards said, “life isn’t fair, but government should be”—when are we going to have an informed dialog about what these chemicals are doing, and have the potential to do,  to the human fetus?

“It would be one thing if these were isolated incidents,” said Alan Septoff, . “But every time the EPA has come up with something damning, somehow, something magically has occurred to have them walk it back.”

“Magically”?  Mr Septoff means “The Magic Negro”

Sen.Inhofe, if he believes the water is of such great quality, should have his staff drink it in all his offices, in DC as well as on Ok.

Contaminating the aquifers means people have to purchase bottled water & as we have seen time & time again, it’s always about the $$$$$$.

Dear “anti-liberal” “wealth creationists”:
Can you please tell the rest of us, who value clean water and healthy food, over greedy corporate profits, exactly WHICH CHEMICALS are used in fracking? What? That’s a “trade secret”? WHY? Why does the industry use *secret*chemicals*?...And please don’t give us the usual crap about “proprietary”...those chemicals ARE getting in OUR ground water, because of YOUR “horizontal drilling”...
( will never cease to amaze me, how some evil people can place “corporate profits”, and “energy growth”, above the health and well-being of humanity…)

Bruce Fernandes

July 6, 2013, 10:17 a.m.

All the chemicals used in fracking were disclosed to the EPA.

The reason you didn’t hear about it is because the chemicals being used come from nature and that part of the story died.  The EPA didn’t make a big thing out of it for fear of looking as stupid as they really are.

As for wealth creation.  Dood, without wealth creation we become Europe.  Oh, that’s right, you and your socialist president want to become Europe.  Well, the millions of men and women in Europe in their mid to late 30s still living with their mom and dad because there are no economic opportunities in Europe might explain to you their discontent with the socialist model.

Human beings desire to have as much freedom from intrusive government as is possible taking into account that balance between the good for the society as a whole.  Obama has gone far beyond in his chase after the magical number of government dependents…. once he has his solid majority they will vote themselves more largess…. the ability to take more from the makers…...

In time, tax rates get so high the makers stop making as much… then the politicians have to give the bad news to the takers….  did you forget about the riots in Greece when the dependency class found out they were no longer going get to take as much from the makers who have been dwindling in Greece for the past quarter century?

The only true success your socialist president can show is larger inequities in wealth distribution because the stock market came roaring back which is the home of the wealthy in terms of most of their wealth creation.  The housing market, the wealth creation tool of the broad middle class while coming back is nowhere near the value equivalent of where the stock market is right now.

The significance is that small business creation as a general rule in the past was created in part from access to home equity loans by the little guy who desired to have his chance at the American dream.  Now, with no home equity and ObamaCare mandates the interest in forming your own small business has dwindled to a crawl.  Small businesses created most of the jobs in our country prior to this financial crisis and subsequent recession/near depression.

So Obama gets credit for big business getting bigger too.. the rich getting much richer and big business getting bigger….. seems your socialist president misleads all of you while he lines up at the donation trough and the little guy just sits in place existing from day to day and hoping there will be government handouts and takings for them too.

This is Obama’s America and unless we take advantage of our energy infrastructure and develop it there is little chance of long term economic growth of a kind that can lift as many boats as can be lifted.

So get your facts straight… the fracking liquids have been disclosed to EPA and there is no there there and that is why you haven’t heard squat about it.

Wow. More *LIES* from “Bruce Fernandes”...
SEZ Fern-and-Dez:”...All the chemicals used in fracking were disclosed to the EPA….”....No, *LIAR*!...when, where, and HOW were
they “disclosed to the EPA”...???...Why can’t we find out what they are?
Go ahead, Fern-and-Dez, spout your NAZI-Repubtard fantasy of yur Ayn Randified dystopia…and don’t call me no Libtard or Obama-nator…
If you think yur such a smart guy, Fern-and-Dez, *WHAT* are we gonna use for “energy”, when ALL the coal, oil, and gas is USED UP?...
HUH?...What THEN, Fern-and-Dez…???...c’mon, smart-guy, dribble some more “Trickle-down” on us…

Byard Pidgeon

July 6, 2013, Noon

Bruce Fernandes loses his credibility not only by parroting the industry line regarding fracking, but even more by calling Obama a “Socialist”, demonstrating his willful ignorance of Socialism and by extension, his willful ignoring of the problems of fracking.

I posted a long, and informative (with supportive links), comment yesterday, just after my last one that appears in this thread.  Where is it?  I spent a fair amount of time composing it, and, I hate to see that time wasted.

That’s a GOOD QUESTION, James Barth…maybe it was “de-moderated”...Sometimes, when sore losers lose, they resort to desperate measures…censorship is simply par-for-the-course, for the MOTHER(earth)FRACKERS…!!!...
The depth of the wells drilled, combined with horizontal drilling, is what really scares me…Look at the case of W.R.Grace, in “A Civil Action” - I *think* that’s the one I mean…it’s a famous case, easy to look up, even if I did (maybe) get the name wrong…
A neighborhood on ONE side of a river from the W.R.Grace Co. sued, for groundwater contamination…Grace’s lame-ass “defense” was that their TOXIC chemicals could not possibly have migrated across the river…
Careful hydro-geological and chemical testing PROVED Grace wrong…
Fracking is far more dangerous than the industry will readily admit…
Once again, it’s the GREED of short-term profit for the corporate rulers, at the expense of the health and lives of the People, and the Planet…

As an X oil production supervisor I can attest to the “flawed” findings on lab reports.  I could pass any test submitted whenever I wanted a particular finding.  The government has always tried to “help” whomever had the money.  Today is no different.  Fracking is the most dangerous method of oil and gas production BAR NONE.  Fracking SHALE rock is a dangerous method because NO ONE HAS FIGURED OUT HOW TO STOP THE FRACTURING PROCESS ONCE STARTED. Combine that with the abundance of NATURAL FRACTURES all over the place NO ONE CAN SAY WHERE HYDROCARBONS WILL ESCAPE FROM.  The EPA will not save us, the government cannot go against the people that stuff their pockets with bribe money and perks.  Self serving energy sector people will not acknowledge anything is wrong, that would take money from their fat bank accounts, they instead will fight against even letting us know what they are doing, and especially WHY.  If anyone wants to know what the energy company’s are up to just investigate who is buying up water reserves.  WATER, ESPECIALLY CLEAN WATER will be the next “opportunity” for the energy industry, after they ruined the water aquifers with their fracking they will gladly sell you drinking water for $20 a gallon.

Bruce J Fernandes

July 7, 2013, 10:34 p.m.

The most aggressive EPA in our lifetimes and if anything you said was true this industry would be shut down.

You like your climate warming friends oh I mean climate change because the warming thesis went to poop on you….. if you don’t have the facts you throw it all up against a wall to see if anything sticks.

Clean water is the next opportunity because you need clean water…. not because of fracking.

But all you liberals who want to destroy yet another industry that pays high wages can explain to everyone how they should strive to work for $9/hour assembling solar panels because your alternative energy wet dreams are more important than people earning a working hard in an industry that pays superior wages…...

What is your anger all about…. that people are getting rich again in the USA or your liberal wet dreams regarding green energy have been exposed as nothing more than an exercise in crony capitalism by your president of the US.

I say your president because Obama clearly does not consider himself to be president of all the people.

Sharon Wilson

July 7, 2013, 10:52 p.m.

Ray, more people like you are coming forward everyday. I just took video testimony from someone who worked in industry. More people will decide the money is not worth it and they will speak out too.

Those of use who have lived with this industry know all that you say is true. If you watch industry closely, and read their reports and presentations, they tell off on themselves. 

Thank you.

To: Bruce J Fernandes

What you seem to be saying it that your job is more important than an entire community’s health and wellbeing.

Fracking Jobs:
OIL FIELD SERVICES: Workers in Eagle Ford file suit over wages, hours
Gayathri Vaidyanathan, E&E reporter Published: Monday, January 14, 2013

“A group of oil field workers have filed a lawsuit against a Texas-based oil field services company accusing it of violating federal minimum wage and overtime laws. The workers allege that Superior Energy did not pay them overtime even though they worked up to 80 or even 100 hours a week for three years, said Allen Vaught, the attorney representing the plaintiffs. That would violate the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under FLSA, employees are entitled to overtime if they work more than 40 hours, at one and a half times the employee’s regular rate. But Superior Energy allegedly told the employees they are not eligible for overtime because they are salaried workers and get occasional bonuses. The lawsuit was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Superior Energy did not respond to a request for comment by deadline. The company provides oil field services to operators on Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale.”

Oil field workers suffer horrible deaths:

“But once again, the EPA’s actions ignited an explosive response from the oil and gas industry, and a sharp rebuke from Texas state officials, who insisted that their own data and analysis proved Range had done no harm.”

Well, we are talking about Texas, home of unregulated exploding fertilizer plants.

Bruce, this isn’t a right vs left issue so please stop pitching it in that light. It’s a corporate profit vs the safety of American citizens issue. Some of the contaminants identified i.e the trace metals do occurr naturally in nature. Some of them are possibly the result of petroleum contamination. Still, unless one has a list of the chemicals used in drilling fluid, it’s difficult to pin the contamination on one source or the other.

The drilling and gas companies know this which is why I suspect they refused to release the chemicals in their drilling fluid to anyone other than the EPA, knowing full well the EPA could be placed under intense political pressure by the GOP.  There is likely a single chemical or suite of chemicals found in the aquifer that is/are ONLY found in drilling fluid. Releasing this information would clearly implicate the fracking companies. If in fact,the none of the chemicals in drilling fluid was found in the aquifer, releasing the information to the public would be to their benefit, would it not? Addtionally the claim that they can’t release the chemical makeup due to proprietary concerns is BOGUS. In other words you can’t make that special cake knowing just the ingredients. You have to know HOW MUCH of each ingredient to use.  Similarly The chemicals in the drilling fluid can be revealed without revealing the concentrations of each used.

Bruce J Fernandes

July 8, 2013, 10:21 a.m.

Waste water treatment plants emit from our human waste.

Suppose we should stop that function too.

Naïve libs demand perfection.  The problem is you are looking to men and women in congress who had they not become congressmen and women would be working in veterinary clinics expressing our pets. 

After all, their specialty is spewing their poop all over us.

I’d like to thank the site manager for finally finding, and posting, my methane emissions comment in the proper location of this thread.  I’d like to ask people to read it.  Added to Abrahm Lustgarten’s response to Mike H, it gives a resounding response to the shale gas extraction industry’s PR talking points.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Fracking: Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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