Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fracking and Pavillion, Wyoming

Well the EPA report on the Pavillion, Wyoming groundwater contamination claims has just been released after 3 years or so collecting water samples, production data and evaluating everything.  It isn't comforting to find that EPA thinks the vertical fracking activity and the production operations have both been responsible for some fairly significant groundwater contamination at this location.  The list of chemicals in the groundwater, while predominately methane gas as initially claimed by the residents, is reportedly lengthy.

I was surprised to find that the hydrocarbon production was as close to the usable groundwater as it was.  Most of the drinking water wells in the area (within 4 miles of the production wells) were completed anywhere from 400 feet to 600 feet below land surface.  As nature would have it, the geology is quite complex there due to all the folding and faulting the area has experienced throughout its geologic history.  It is this very geologic activity that has provided all the hydrocarbon traps that are being produced today.

I was also surprised to see the stratigraphy map of the area (click graphic to enlarge). There is not a single confining layer in this rendering that is not listed as a "leaky confing layer".  This means that there are no real confining layers at all in the entire vertical section.  I have to ask what the company geologists thought might happen as they fracked and produced natural gas literally 500 feet or so under the groundwater being used by the residents.  According to EPA, of the 160 or so production wells in the area, only two had the appropriate amount of production pipe installed and cemented.  Not only that, but most of the cement bond logs found incomplete and inadequate cementing jobs of what production pipe was installed. 

The production company is aggressively lambasting the EPA preliminary report, which has not been through peer review yet and made final.  The company says that:

*  the peer review process will conclude that EPA's drilling and sampling process was faulty and resulted in the apparant contamination found in the deep wells;

*  that no man-made chemicals used in the fracking process have been found in excess of water quality standards; and

*  EPA ignored well known geologic and hydrologic conditions of the Pavillion field.  They conclude that EPA's release of this preliminary report was grossly irresponsible.  And the debate goes on.

My read is that whatever is ultimately concluded, the fracking and gas production in Pavillion will continue (there are only 161 persons using the groundwater within 4 miles of the site), and will continue everywhere else, too.  For sure, the geology and hydrology at Pavillion is very different from everywhere else, and even if the conclusion here is that mistakes had been made, it doesn't necessarily follow that mistakes will be or are being made everywhere else or anywhere else.  Every area will have to deal with these issues on their own.  The energy is simply too important (and let's not forget valuable) to do otherwise.  Besides, we can always clean up the water if we have to. (Ouch!)  Mind you, this is my read, not necessarily my opinion. 

My final point is regulation. There are those calling for federal regulation by EPA of all fracking activity.  The oil and gas industry is vehemently opposed to this approach, which makes most think it probably is the right one.  But I think the individual states can do this better - IF each one of us makes sure their state is appropriately addressing the public concerns.  I still think it is easier to make state regulations do what they are supposed to do when they are inadequate than federal regulations if they miss the mark. 

But one thing is for sure, someone needs to step up with a set of regulations that adequately protects the drinking water.

No comments:

Post a Comment