Monday, June 24, 2013

EPA: Peer Review for Thee But Not For We

The Environmental Protection Agency declines to have outside experts review its study claiming water contamination from fracking in Wyoming. Why confuse an analysis based on ideology with the facts?
In 2011, the EPA released the non-peer reviewed report on Pavillion in which the agency publicly linked fracking and groundwater contamination for the first time. However, then-EPA administrator Lisa Jackson stated that there is "no proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water."
First, the contamination was found in two "monitoring wells" drilled by EPA outside of town, not in water wells that actually supply residents their water. EPA use of "dense soda ash" to drill its monitoring wells into a hydrocarbon-bearing layer probably skewed the results.

According to the industry research group Energy in Depth, "dense soda ash has a recorded pH (11.5), very similar to the level found in the deep wells, creating the possibility that the high pH recorded by EPA could have been caused by the very chemicals it used to drill its own wells."
Well, yes, soda ash is strongly basic.  I don't know why it would be used in drilling fluid (I'm sure there's a good reason), but it would certainly result in high pH being recorded from the monitoring wells until they were well flushed.
What the EPA report doesn't say is that the U.S. Geological Survey has detected organic chemicals in the well water in Pavillion for at least five decades, long before fracking was done. The deepwater wells that EPA drilled are situated near a natural gas reservoir.

Encana Corp., which owns more than 100 wells near Pavillion, says it didn't "put the natural gas at the bottom of the EPA's deep monitoring wells. Nature did."
As, indeed, the whole point of fracking is to get to the the hydrocarbon bearing layers and get the gas out. It should be no shock when monitoring wells also encounter them.

Peer review isn't perfect.  Even performed well, it tends to be kind of uneven, with a few experts honing in on problems not foreseen by the studies authors, and some glossing over them, and focusing on others.  However, not being willing to subject the study to peer review suggests that the EPA doesn't trust peers to come to the "right" conclusion.

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