Range Resources

EPA's National Study of Fracking Crippled by Industry Pressure

  • Posted on: 5 March 2015
  • By: JesseColeman

Fracking companies had extensive influence over a critical study of the groundwater impacts from fracking, according to insider documents released by Greenpeace. In 2010, amidst growing worries about the environmental impacts from fracking, Congress compelled the EPA to conduct a study. The study was supposed to be a definitive look at the issue, exploring if and how fracking contaminates groundwater supplies. That study was supposed to be released in 2012, but has been delayed until 2016. Documents released as part of Greenpeace investigation have found that the EPA was forced to rely on shale companies like Chesapeake Energy for data, funding, and access to fracking sites. The shale industry in turn constrained the study, limiting what could be studied and when. These constraints led to the eventual cancellation of perhaps the most important part of the study - the "prospective" section.  

Industry Actions leads to the Cancellation of Science

When the EPA's study was first conceptualized, it was supposed to include retrospective and prospective portions. The retrospective pieces would examine data collected by the industry in the past. The prospective section was where new scientific study would be done. The prospective studies were supposed to take baseline data from groundwater in areas that had not yet been drilled, and compare them to samples taken after drilling and fracking occurred. This type of prospective study, which starts pre-fracking, has never been done before and represented a major advance in the scientific study of fracking's impacts. The prospective portions would be the most reliable way to determine whether oil and gas development contaminates surface water and nearby aquifers. One EPA scientist told Inside Climate News "The single most important thing you could do is prospective studies.” However, the EPA was reliant on two shale companies for access to areas that had not yet been fracked, an arrangement that led to the full cancellation of the entire prospective section of the EPA's study. Documents obtained by Greenpeace show that Chesapeake Energy, one of the companies that initially agreed to cooperate with the EPA on the prospective portions of the study, actually drilled wells at their prospective study site, before the EPA was able to collect baseline data. This effectively torpedoed the entire project, and attempts at replacing the location, originally in Louisiana, with one in Oklahoma, also ended in failure. The correspondence between Chesapeake and EPA includes a draft press release announcing the cancellation of the prospective study in Louisiana conducted with Chesapeake. The release blames the cancellation on  "scheduling conflicts, " resulting in Chesapeake drilling the well before baseline data could be collected. The press release was jointly edited by EPA and Chesapeake, but never released to the public. The EPA would never publicly announce the cancellation of the prospective studies, and only after increased pressure from Greenpeace did they reference it's cancellation deep on the study's website. The second prospective study, to be conducted with Range Resources, has also been cancelled. The cancellation of the prospective pieces has had a major impact on the usefulness of the study. "We won’t know anything more in terms of real data than we did five years ago," said Geoffrey Thyne, a geochemist and a member of the EPA's 2011 Science Advisory Board, a group of independent scientists who reviewed the draft plan of the study. (from Inside Climate News)

Water Supply Problems

Kids in Pennsylvania hold tap water contaminated by nearby shale drilling

Delay and Obstruct - Study attacked on all sides by Industry

The documents reveal a number of instances where the fracking industry delayed and obstructed the EPA’s attempts to study fracking. The industry waged an attack from every side, political, scientific, and procedural. As Sharon Kelly writes for Desmog, "Watered-down federal research weakens the possibility for future regulations. It also has been used to justify loopholes in federal environmental laws for the oil and gas industry." Kelly points out the 3 step process that various industries have employed to impact unwanted studies:

Step one: using a rhetoric of collaboration and “non-adversarial” relationships, the industry effectively establishes inside access to what otherwise should be an independent research process. This allows the industry to meddle with study methodologies, pick and chose its own favored experts, and distort findings. Step two: through inside access, the industry affords itself the authority to contest, after the fact, any findings that it is not able to water down on the front end. Step three: this access also allows industry the ability to impose infeasible methodological demands on the agency, slowing the process to a crawl and at times forcing the agency to give up trying to get answers to certain key questions.

Fracking for natural gas in Pennsylvania.

This Pennsylvania resident's water changed color and taste after a fracked well was placed near her property.

Here is a list of findings from the documents:

  • Chesapeake only allowed for baseline sampling after the fracking wells had initially been drilled, rather than beforehand, as EPA scientists preferred. Without having baseline data pre-drilling, the industry can claim that contaminates existed there before their drills pierced the aquifer. The Industry has claimed this in multiple cases where groundwater impacts from fracking have occurred.
  • Chesapeake demanded the EPA reduce the depth of their study from 300 to 150 feet, and demanded that the EPA focus solely on the fracking stage, not drilling, completion, or other stages where contamination can occur.
  • API and ANGA tried to have their own consultants shadow the EPA's scientists during the study. This proved to be distracting to the scientists conducting the study.
  • At the same time, Chesapeake and Range, the two companies that were supposed to cooperating with EPA on the prospective study, were attacking other EPA studies of water contamination cases. While initially finding evidence of contamination from Chesapeake Energy wells in Pennsylvania and Range Resources wells in Texas, The EPA never pursued any regulatory action.
  • Chesapeake was, as one EPA email put it “part of the team here” when it came to the water study.
  • The Inspector General of the EPA tried to investigate “the EPA’s and states’ ability to manage potential threats to water resources from hydraulic fracturing.” In response, pro-fracking Congressional representatives demanded the investigation “immediately end.”

As Neela Banerjee writes in Inside Climate News: "The industry balked at the scope of the study and sowed doubts about the EPA's ability to deliver definitive findings. In addition, concerns about the safety of drinking water conflicted with the Obama administration's need to spur the economy out of recession while expanding domestic energy production."

A Chesapeake drilling site warns of water contamination

A Chesapeake drilling site warns of water contamination

Does Fracking Contaminate Water Supplies?

Studies conducted since the EPA’s study began have found evidence that fracking affects groundwater supplies. A 2013 Duke University study found that within a kilometer of fracking wells, methane concentration in drinking-water wells was 6 times higher than the surrounding area.  A University of Texas-Arlington study from 2013 found elevated levels of arsenic and heavy metals in groundwater near fracking sites in Texas’ Barnett Shale. See Greenpeace's fracking page for a list of groundwater contamination incidents.

Industry: 

DeSmogBlog: Obama EPA Shut Down Weatherford, TX Shale Gas Water Contamination Study

  • Posted on: 17 January 2013
  • By: Connor Gibson

Originally posted by Steve Horn at DeSmogBlog.

The Associated Press has a breaking investigative story out today revealing that the Obama Administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) censored a smoking gun scientific report in March 2012 that it had contracted out to a scientist who conducted field data on 32 water samples in Weatherford, TX.

That report, according to the AP, would have explicitly linked methane migration to hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in Weatherford, a city with 25,000+ citizens located in the heart of the Barnett Shale geologic formation 30 minutes from Dallas.

It was authored by Geoffrey Thyne, a geologist formerly on the faculty of the Colorado School of Mines and University of Wyoming before departing from the latter for a job in the private sector working for Interralogic Inc. in Ft Collins, CO. 

This isn't the first time Thyne's scientific research has been shoved aside, either. Thyne wrote two landmark studies on groundwater contamination in Garfield County, CO, the first showing that it existed, the second confirming that the contamination was directly linked to fracking in the area.

It's the second study that got him in trouble.

"Thyne says he was told to cease his research by higher-ups. He didn’t," The Checks and Balances Project explained. "And when it came to renew his contract, Thyne was cut loose."

 

From Smoking Gun to Censorship: Range Resources Link

The Obama EPA's Weatherford, TX study was long-in-the-making, with its orgins actually dating back to a case of water contamination in 2010. The victim: Steve Lipsky. 

"At first, the Environmental Protection Agency believed the situation was so serious that it issued a rare emergency order in late 2010 that said at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane," the AP wrote

AP proceeded to explain that Lipsky had "reported his family's drinking water had begun 'bubbling' like champagne" and that his "well...contains so much methane that the...water [is] pouring out of a garden hose [that] can be ignited."

The driller in this case was a corporation notorious for intimidating local communities and governmental officials at all levels of governance: Range Resources. Range, in this case, set up shop for shale gas production in a "wooded area about a mile from Lipsky's home," according to the AP

As DeSmogBlog revealed in November 2011, Range Resources utilizes psychological warfare techniques as part of its overarching public relations strategy.

Due to the grave health concerns associated with the presence of methane and benzene in drinking water, the Obama EPA "ordered Range...to take steps to clean their water wells and provide affected homeowners with safe water," wrote the AP

Range's response? It "threatened not to cooperate" with the Obama EPA's study on fracking's link to water contamination. The non-cooperation lead to the Obama EPA suing Range Resources. 

It was during this phase of the struggle where things got interesting. As the AP explained,

Believing the case was headed for a lengthy legal battle, the Obama EPA asked an independent scientist named Geoffrey Thyne to analyze water samples taken from 32 water wells. In the report obtained by the AP, Thyne concluded from chemical testing that the gas in the drinking water could have originated from Range Resources' nearby drilling operation.

Despite this smoking gun, everything was soon shut down, with the Obama EPA reversing its emergency order, terminating the court battle and censoring Thyne's report. The AP explained that the Obama EPA has "refused to answer questions about the decision."

"I just can't believe that an agency that knows the truth about something like that, or has evidence like this, wouldn't use it," Lipsky, who now pays $1,000 a month to have water hauled to his family's house, told the AP.

"Duke Study" Co-Author Confirms Veracity of Thyne's Study 

Robert Jackson, a Professor of Global Environmental Change at Duke University and co-author of the "Duke Study" linking fracking to groundwater contamination did an independent peer review of Thyne's censored findings. He found that it is probable that the methane in Lipsky's well water likely ended up there thanks to the fracking process. 

Range predictably dismissed Thyne and Jackson as "anti-industry."

Americans Against Fracking: An "Unconscionable" Decision

Americans Against Fracking summed up the situation best in a scathing press release:

It is unconscionable that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is tasked with safeguarding our nation’s vital natural resources, would fold under pressure to the oil and gas industry...It is again abundantly clear that the deep pocketed oil and gas industry will stop at nothing to protect its own interests, even when mounting scientific evidence shows that drilling and fracking pose a direct threat to vital drinking water supplies.

There's also a tragic human side to this tale. 

"This has been total hell," Lipsky told the AP. "It's been taking a huge toll on my family and on our life."

Photo CreditShutterStock | Aaron Amat