Last week the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report that for the first time made a direct link between the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and contaminated groundwater. Specifically the report mentioned such a link at the Pavillion natural gas field in Wyoming, operated by Encana Oil & Gas (USA), the US unit of Canada-based Encana.
Encana is strongly disputing the EPA’s preliminary conclusions in its draft report, which conflates water quality issues in the surface groundwater in the field with fracking activities. The company argues that the EPA data from Pavillion’s water wells aligns with all previous testing done by Encana in the area, and shows no impacts from oil and gas development. In particular it points out that EPA’s findings from its recent deep monitoring wells in the area, including those related to any connection between hydraulic fracturing and Pavilion groundwater quality, are pure conjecture.
The company is especially disappointed that the EPA released its draft report, outlining preliminary findings, before subjecting it to peer review by qualified, third-party scientists.
Encana claims that because Pavillion is a shallow natural gas field, naturally occurring methane (natural gas) exists throughout the subsurface geology, at depths as shallow as 1,100 feet. The absence of a cap rock has meant that over geological time gas has seeped upwards and contaminated groundwater. This, it argues, is a natural process and quite independent of natural gas drilling and fracking activities.
The reason for the push back to the EPA report is that Encana (and the natural gas industry) is concerned that an alleged “scientific” link between fracking and groundwater contaminated will further fire up the anti-fracking movement and impede the widespread development of gas from shale formations. (Public concern about fracking has already led to a three-year moratorium in the state of New York on fracking-assisted natural gas drilling, the future status of which is currently under deliberation.)
Photo by Bosc d’Anjou used under a Creative Commons license.