Hydrologist: Fracturing contaminated Wyo. water - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Hydrologist: Fracturing ‘clear’ cause of Wyo. water contamination

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An independent hydrology expert said his analysis of evidence collected by the Environmental Protection Agency confirms hydraulic fracturing polluted a Wyoming aquifer.

Tom Myers, a hydrologic consultant from Reno, Nev., reviewed the draft report of ground water contamination in Pavillion, Wyo.

The report was commissioned by the National Resources Defense Council, the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Sierra Club and the Oil and Gas Accountability Project. The findings of Myers' report is being submitted to the EPA as technical comments.

"After consideration of the evidence presented in the EPA report and in URS, it is clear that hydraulic fracturing has caused pollution of the Wind River formation and aquifer," Myers wrote. "…The EPA's conclusion is sound."

Steve Everley of Energy in Depth, an industry organization, said he was skeptical of Myers' report.

"I think it's exactly the kind of report you'd expect to see from someone who was paid by national environmental groups to arrive at conclusions that are pretty obviously preordained. The striking thing here, though, is that he says EPA's initial conclusions ‘were sound.' But not even the EPA itself believes that anymore, which is why it reversed course earlier this year and basically started over with its testing."

On March 8, the EPA announced extension of public comment period on their draft study to delay peer review and consider additional sampling. The EPA is partnering with the United States Geological Survey, Wyoming and the Tribes to complete further sampling of the area.  

In his report, Myers emphasized that specific geologic conditions of the area, as well improper drilling techniques led to the contamination.

"Three factors combine to make Pavillion-area aquifers especially vulnerable to vertical contaminant transport from the gas production zone or the gas wells – the geology, the well design, and the well construction," Myers wrote. "Natural flow barriers are not prevalent in this area, so there are likely many pathways for gas and contaminants to move to the surface, regardless of the source."

He said there is also a vertical gradient present in the geology of the area, which drives upward transport of materials.

"The entire formation is considered an underground source of drinking water, but 169 gas wells have been constructed into it; this is fracking fluid injection directly into an underground source of drinking water," Myers wrote.

The Pavillion case, Myers said, is not necessarily an example that can be applied to other gas plays such as the Marcellus or Utica shale in West Virginia.

"The situation at Pavillion is not an analogue for other gas plays because the geology and regulatory framework may be different," the report states. "The vertical distance between water wells and fracking wells is much less at Pavillion than in other areas, so the transport time through the pathways may also be low compared to other gas plays. It is important, however, to consider that the pathways identified at Pavillion could applicable elsewhere."

The EPA's draft report is available here: http://www.epa.gov/region8/superfund/wy/pavillion/EPA_ReportOnPavillion_Dec-8-2011.pdf and Myers' analysis of the report is located here: http://docs.nrdc.org/energy/files/ene_12050101a.pdf

 

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