Friday, December 9, 2011

You get what you want to get.

Environmentalists are breathless today as a new EPA survey has come out "suggesting" that hydraulic fracturing is responsible for contaminated ground water in Wyoming.

(EPA links fracking to contaminated water in Wyoming, Neela Banerjee, Boston Herald)
The Environmental Protection Agency said that hydraulic fracturing, a controversial natural gas drilling process, likely contaminated well water in Wyoming, a finding sure to roil the debate about expanding natural gas drilling around the country.

EPA’s new draft report found dangerous amounts of benzene in a monitoring well near the town of Pavillion, in central Wyoming.
This Boston Herald article is fairly light on substance, surprisingly, the Houston Chronicle does a much better job filling in the blanks:

(EPA links fracking at Wyoming to tainted well water, Jennifer Dlouhy, Chron.com
The EPA stressed that the findings are limited to Pavillion, where fracturing has taken place both at and below the level of the drinking water aquifer and close to drinking water wells - conditions that are not common elsewhere in the U.S.

Oil and gas drilling has been conducted in the region since the 1950s, and some of the 169 gas production wells in the area were fractured as little as 1,220 feet below the surface.

By contrast, energy companies are extracting natural gas from Texas' Eagle Ford shale at depths of 4,000 to 14,000 feet.

Elizabeth Ames Jones, chair of the Texas Railroad Commission, said Texas' geology is different than Pavillion's.

"Hydraulic fracturing does not go on close to the surface here and it would be impossible to migrate up from miles below the earth to a water table," she said. She added that Texas also has stringent well construction rules to ensure water safety.
In short, what the EPA has is evidence of something, that hasn't been peer-reviewed, that's of a limited sample size, and for which there's no replication in shale fractured wells anywhere else in the Country, a one-off. A one-off that environmentalists are sure to try and use to stop shale gas development throughout the country.

What this study means is that the burden of proof is now on Encana to demonstrate that their Wyoming property is properly constructed and, if not, that they can mitigate any damage that's conclusively linked to their wells. It would seem that further testing, and tracking is needed, as well as a peer-review of the EPA's findings. What we're likely to get are politicians waving a poorly-developed flag in a rush to judgement. A judgement that many of them were determined to find no matter what. It just took them finding a field with a unique drilling profile. If you look hard enough you can find a data point to support any political agenda. The EPA now has found (albeit tenuously) the environmental argument. That they were looking for just that should give you pause.

The hope would be that this study leads to a cleaning of the water in this region. Instead we're going to hear calls to severely curtail promising energy production in the name of post-normal science. It's one of the biggest problems with Lisa Jackson's EPA, and the reason people are correct in saying that their powers need to be severely curtailed.

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