API blasts government’s hydraulic fracturing probe

The Environmental Protection Agency’s approach to groundwater testing near Wyoming drilling sites raises concerns about its broader nationwide study on hydraulic fracturing, the nation’s leading oil and gas industry group said Thursday.

The American Petroleum Institute warned the EPA could be replicating what the group sees as mistakes in the agency’s evaluation of potential groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyo., as it studies the issue nationwide.

In particular, API Upstream Director Erik Milito faulted the EPA’s reliance on data from samples pulled from one of the two test wells it drilled in the area, noting that scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey chose not to use samples from that same low-flow well.

“The USGS did a better job,” Milito said. “Unlike EPA, it chose not to test samples from one of the two wells that EPA drilled because that well was unable to provide representative samples due to its low-flow characteristics.”

A recent USGS analysis of a second well in the region did not show the same compounds linked to hydraulic fracturing that EPA identified in its tests of the low-flow well.

“A lot of questions have been raised about these wells,” Milito told reporters on a conference call. “They (EPA) really need to start from scratch. If they continue down a sloppy path, we’re going to continue to get sloppy results.”

“A bad study could be counterproductive, and there are enough missteps and unanswered questions about EPA’s Pavillion sampling to raise concerns about the broader hydraulic fracturing water study,” Milito said.

Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping mixtures of chemicals, water and sand underground to release natural gas and oil locked in dense rock formations.

Environmentalists and some landowners near drilling sites say drinking water supplies have been contaminated by chemicals from the process as well as methane escaping from poorly secured wells. Industry leaders insist there has been no proven case of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing fluids and note that most fractured hydrocarbon-bearing rock is far from aquifers.

In a draft report unveiled late last year, the EPA said it had discovered glycols, alcohols and other synthetic chemicals associated with gas production and hydraulic fracturing inside deep water wells in the region. The EPA’s three-year study in Pavillion relied on samples collected from existing water wells and monitoring wells it constructed in the region.

The EPA has said the USGS’ data is “generally consistent” with its own findings, but API’s Milito rejected that conclusion on Thursday. Based on an API analysis of the USGS data, Milito said, the chemical compounds the EPA found did not show up in the USGS’ samples.

In a statement, the EPA said new monitoring data from Pavillion, collected in collaboration with the USGS (after the USGS’ own sampling at one of the wells) “are generally consistent with the monitoring data included in EPA’s 2011 draft report.”

“The data, along with EPA’s draft report and USGS data, will be submitted to an independent expert peer review panel,” the agency said. “EPA will take public comment on its data.” EPA said the public will have until Jan. 15, 2013 to weigh in.

The agency is conducting a broader, congressionally mandated study of the intersection of water and hydraulic fracturing, with an interim report due in December and a final one expected in 2014.

The API’s analysis is below:

API Review of Recent USGS Pavillion, Wyoming Reports