PINEDALE – The first round of groundwater testing near the town of Pavillion resulted in controversy, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) finding that hydraulic fracturing, “fracking,” shared responsibility in contaminated water drew harsh criticism from multiple parties, questioning the science used.
After the State of Wyoming commissioned a second set of testing by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), it appears the findings – and reaction – may be the same; the EPA stated the results are “generally consistent” with those previously found, but some groups have released contradictory reports.
“From the beginning, Wyoming’s position has been that we had enough questions about the draft report that more testing was warranted,” Gov. Matt Mead said in a statement.
The USGS did not draw conclusions from the testing, leaving multiple groups to analyze and break down the data. The EPA will use the findings in its final report, which will be submitted for peer review, due sometime in 2013. The public comment period has been extended an additional three months into January.
Comments already came pouring in from the gas driller in the area, Encana, and other energy-related companies.
Encana expressed concerns with the wells used in the second round. Spokesperson Doug Hock pointed out in a statement the USGS only sampled one of the EPA’s two monitoring wells.
“This goes to the heart of concerns raised by state and federal agencies, as well as Encana – EPA’s wells are improperly constructed,” Hock said.
Wyoming recognized this inconsistency in its release, saying only one well was of use for the USGS series of tests.
“This additional testing and the collaborative approach showed that we could not get valid data out of Monitor Well 2. As for Monitor Well 1, we see that there are differences between these results and the results the EPA put out on its own,” Mead said.
Other advocacy groups, like Energy In Depth, conducted their own analysis of the data and disagreed with the EPA’s findings of “consistency.”
“But for those willing to look closely enough at the USGS report, it’s hard to see how the EPA can claim the two reports are ‘generally consistent.’ Actually, that statement is highly misleading, because there are glaring inconsistencies between what the EPA and USGS found. So far, Energy In Depth has identified more than 50 individual measurements from the EPA’s draft Pavillion report that have been discredited by the USGS,” an article on the entity’s website read.
The firestorm around Pavillion began in December 2011, when the EPA first released data blaming fracking for polluted water. The statement was the first time a government agency publicly attributed groundwater contamination to fracking.
Immediately after, Congressional representatives, energy companies and Mead condemned the science of the testing, along with the conclusions.
The EPA gave in to calls for more testing, which the USGS released data from last week.
Conservation groups consider the EPA’s original announcement and most recent findings of consistency to be very important, as fracking is a pivotal component of natural gas drilling in areas where gas wells are a fairly new occurrence, like the East Coast and in parts of California.
Mead believes it would be “premature” to draw conclusions now, but the state does plan to issue comments, which will address the original December 2011 draft report and the most recent round of testing, according to Communications Director Renny MacKay.
A technical team hired by the state will do careful analysis before the state issues such a comment.