API blasts EPA report on hydraulic fracturing

The oil and gas industry’s biggest trade group is blasting a government report that linked hydraulic fracturing with possible groundwater contamination in Wyoming.

Too many questions already have been raised about the data underpinning the Environmental Protection Agency’s draft report, said the American Petroleum Institute.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and state regulators have raised questions about some of the water samples drawn at EPA’s deep test wells in Pavillion, Wyo., after some of the results could not be replicated. Industry and Wyoming officials also have questioned whether the EPA may have introduced contaminants when it drilled those test wells.

“The oil and natural gas industry, Gov. Matt Mead and state agencies in Wyoming have raised numerous questions on the sampling process and lack of peer review for the EPA’s draft Pavillion groundwater report,” said Erik Milito, API’s group director for upstream and industry operations, in a statement. “The opportunity that shale energy production provides for American job creation and economic support is too important to delay with the distraction of flawed data.”

The draft report, released last week, represented the first time a federal agency had linked drinking water pollution with the hydraulic fracturing process that is key to extracting natural gas and oil from dense shale rock formations across the U.S. The technique involves blasting mixtures of water, sand and chemicals at high pressures deep underground to break up that rock and unlock the trapped hydrocarbons.

Environmentalists said the report underscored concerns they have been raising for years, by concluding that poorly constructed and cemented wells, channels in underground rock and other conditions may have allowed chemicals to enter Pavillion’s groundwater supplies.

But industry representatives have countered that the report is fundamentally flawed and only makes a hypothetical case that contamination can be pinned on fracturing, rather than a causal one. And they have stressed that the kind of drilling done at the gas field in west central Wyoming — shallow and close to the aquifer — is far different than work happening elsewhere in the U.S.

The public is invited to comment on the EPA’s draft report, and the agency has pledged to subject it to a thorough peer review process. API’s Milito made clear the industry would be watching.

“The protocols being followed by the agency should ensure credible and scientifically defensible results,” he said.