NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The EPA's Fracking Scare

December 28, 2011

The shale gas boom has been a rare bright spot in the U.S. economy, so much of the country let out a shudder a few weeks ago when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a "draft" report that the drilling process of hydraulic fracturing may have contaminated ground water in Pavillion, Wyoming.  The good news is that the study is neither definitive nor applicable to the rest of the country, says the Wall Street Journal.

This is the first major study to have detected linkage between fracking and ground-water pollution, and the EPA draft hasn't been peer reviewed by independent scientific analysts.  Critics are already picking apart the study, which Wyoming Governor Matt Mead called "scientifically questionable."

The EPA says it launched the study in response to complaints "regarding objectionable taste and odor problems in well water."  What it doesn't say is that the U.S. Geological Survey has detected organic chemicals in the well water in Pavillion for at least 50 years -- long before fracking was employed.  There are other problems with the study that either the EPA failed to disclose or the press has given little attention to:

  • The EPA study concedes that "detections in drinking water wells are generally below [i.e., in compliance with] established health and safety standards."
  • The pollution detected by the EPA and alleged to be linked to fracking was found in deep-water "monitoring wells" -- not the shallower drinking wells.
  • To the extent that drilling chemicals have been detected in monitoring wells, the EPA admits this may result from "legacy pits," which are old wells that were drilled many years before fracking was employed.
  • The fracking in Pavillion takes place in unusually shallow wells of fewer than 1,000 to 1,500 feet deep. Most fracking today occurs 10,000 feet deep or more, far below drinking water wells, which are normally less than 500 feet.

Source: "The EPA's Fracking Scare," Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2011.

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