EPA Fracking Investigation Was Flawed, Study Concludes

Published June 7, 2012

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency used improper procedures and analytical methods in a report claiming hydraulic fracturing may have impaired groundwater quality near Pavillion, Wyoming, an independent scientific assessment concludes.

EPA released a report in December 2011 asserting hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, may have polluted groundwater in the Pavillion region. According to an EPA statement accompanying the report, “ground water in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.” 

If EPA ultimately concludes hydraulic fracturing polluted groundwater in the region, it would mark the first time the agency has ever found a link between fracking and groundwater pollution.

EPA Used Improper Procedures

The independent assessment, conducted by S.S. Papadopulos & Associates, Inc. (SSPA), reports the EPA investigation and report were flawed in many particulars. SSPA found, among other shortcomings, EPA failed to compile and evaluate appropriate background data, made serious errors in sampling water in the region, utilized unapproved methods and procedures for collecting and evaluating water samples, and did not consider alternative possible causes of the asserted groundwater pollution.

 “[T]he data and analysis does not support the EPA’s conclusions, including the agency’s primary claim of contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing activity,” the SSPA assessment concluded.

History of Safe Use

Recent advances in hydraulic fracturing technologies are making it increasingly affordable for energy companies to produce oil and natural gas. The fracking process entails the high-pressure injection of water and trace chemicals to dislodge oil and natural gas in shale rock formations thousands of feet below the earth’s surface.

Federal, state, and local environmental officials have for many decades tested groundwater near fracking sites and have never documented a single case of groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing. 

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.