EPA abandons study that linked fracking, Wyoming water pollution

“While EPA stands behind its work and data, the agency recognizes the State of Wyoming’s commitment for further investigation and efforts to provide clean water and does not plan to finalize or seek peer review of its draft Pavillion groundwater report released in December, 2011,” the EPA said as part of a joint release with the state of Wyoming.

“Nor does the agency plan to rely upon the conclusions in the draft report,” the EPA said.

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The EPA, in a 2011 summary of its draft findings, had said its investigation “indicates that ground water in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.”

The agency had also said in 2011 that the presence of certain chemicals in drinking water wells was “consistent with migration from areas of gas production.”

But Wyoming state officials and industry officials have criticized the EPA’s draft report that linked pollution to fracking, notes The Associated Press, which broke the news of the agency’s decision not to finalize its study.

Steve Everley, a spokesman for the industry group Energy In Depth, said EPA's decision “says pretty clearly that the agency is finally acknowledging the severity of the report’s flaws, and leaning once again on the expertise of state regulators.”

But the environmental group Food & Water Watch lamented the EPA's decision to abandon its Pavillion investigation, alleging the agency is “abdicating its responsibility.”

“If there is any question whatsoever about the safety of fracking and its effects on drinking water supplies, the EPA should make it a top priority to investigate the matter fully,” said Wenonah Hauter, the group's executive director.

The EPA, for its part, is in the midst of a separate and far more wide-ranging study on the relationship between fracking and drinking water in various regions of the country, which it plans to release in draft form in late 2014.

But it’s stepping away from the Pavillion probe.

“We applaud the leadership of Wyoming in conducting further investigation and assuring safe water and look forward to partnering with the State as it conducts its investigation,” Acting EPA Administrator Robert Perciasepe said in a statement.

Two Wyoming agencies — the Department of Environmental Quality and the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission — will “lead the scientific investigation” and “seek to address water quality concerns by evaluating the water quality of certain domestic water wells, the integrity of certain oil and gas wells, and historic pits in the Pavillion area,” the release states.

However, the sampling data from the EPA’s now-abandoned investigation will be considered in Wyoming’s probe, the announcement states.

—This post was updated at 6:37 p.m. and 7:08 p.m.