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Salazar defends fracking; waiting for the "real facts."

While the Denver Post played the role of Rocky Mountain eco-Chicken Little of record, another news outlet — the Casper Star-Tribune — reported former Colorado Senator and current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s opinion of the EPA’s premature press release about a “draft finding” regarding a link that may or may not exist between hydraulic fracturing and groundwater pollution in Pavillion, Wyoming.

Secretary Salazar urged caution at a press conference with Wyoming Governor Matt Mead last Friday, explaining that ‘the jury’s still out’ on the validity of the EPA’s theory.

the EPA’s findings were only preliminary and haven’t yet been reviewed by other scientists.

‘We’ll see what happens with this Pavillion study,’ Salazar said. ‘And I think it’s important that the real facts finally get to the table with respect to the peer review and seeing whether there’s something specific with respect to that basin that is different from what we have across the country.’

Salazar said fracking ‘can be done and is being done safely’ in the United States.

This from a man who isn’t exactly a friend to the oil and gas industry, especially when it comes to domestic production.

Also, Encana, owner of a number of wells in the Pavillion area, issued a strong and justifiable response critical of the EPA’s shoddy methodology:

  • The EPA drilled two deep monitoring wells (depth range: 783 – 981 feet) into a natural gas reservoir and found components of natural gas, which is an entirely expected result. The results in the EPA deep wells are radically different than those in the domestic water wells (typically less than 300 feet deep), thereby showing no connection. Natural gas developers didn’t put the natural gas at the bottom of the EPA’s deep monitoring wells, nature did.
  • Several of the man-made chemicals detected in the EPA deep wells have never been detected in any of the other wells sampled. They were, however, detected in many of the quality control (blank) samples – which are ultra purified water samples commonly used in testing to ensure no contamination from field sampling procedures. These two observations suggest a more likely connection to what it found is due to the problems associated with EPA methodology in the drilling and sampling of these two wells.
  • The EPA’s reported results of all four phases of its domestic water well tests do not exceed federal or state drinking water quality standards for any constituent related to oil and gas development.
  • The EPA report ignores well-known historical realities with respect to the Pavillion field’s unique geology and hydrology.

Let’s get this straight, the EPA drills monitoring wells up to three times deeper than normal drinking water wells in a geologically complex area, finds different components in the water, and then claims pollution from fracking.  The man-made chemicals found in monitoring wells were also found in the “ultra-purified” control samples. Encana is being kind to call the EPA’s conclusions “irresponsible.”

The Denver Post did report on Encana’s response but didn’t provide much in the way of details. Instead the headline reads “Encana disputes fracking finding.” Of course Encana “disputes” the “draft finding.” The news story is in the details, such as those listed above.

Finally, the EPA announced a public comment period from December 14, 2011 to January 27, 2012. (The document says January 27, 2011, but we’re pretty sure the EPA means 2012):

EPA is announcing a 45-day public comment period for the external review of the draft research report titled, “Investigation of Ground Water Contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming.” The draft research report was prepared by the National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL), within the EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD), and EPA Region 8. EPA is releasing this draft research report solely for the purpose of pre-dissemination peer review. This draft research report has not been formally disseminated by EPA. It does not represent and should not be construed to represent any Agency policy or determination. Eastern Research Group, Inc. (ERG), an EPA contractor for external peer review, will convene an independent panel of experts for peer review of this draft research report. Public comments submitted during the public comment period will be made available to the peer review panel for consideration in their review. In preparing a final report, EPA will consider the recommendations of the peer review panel.

Maybe the EPA should have announced the public comment period before it issued a press release and “disseminated” information to news outlets.

Secretary Salazar is smart to wait for the “real facts” swirling around the groundwater in Pavillion, Wyoming.  We’ll wait for them too, even if anti-fossil fuel zealots and their accomplices in the media won’t.

Thank you to Energy In Depth for its coverage of the EPA’s Frack-gate, and to Chris Tucker of EID for appearing on the Amy Oliver Show and sharing this information with listeners. All of this information can be found on the EID Web site.