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Vortex Tools shares how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) halted their probe linking fracking to groundwater contamination, and what this means in the grand scheme of politics and energy development.

*For the basic pro and against viewpoints of the practice (with some added insight to the pro-fracking stance) see hereFor commentary on how difficult it is to get a neutral view of fracking, see here.

At the end of 2011, the EPA released a report linking fracking to groundwater contamination in Pavilion, Wyoming. They stated that the chemicals found in the drinking water were, a) above safe and acceptable standards for drinking water; and b) consistent with fracking chemicals. Although many people already had opinions on the practice, this marked the first time the government had linked fracking to groundwater contamination.

The anti-fracking crowd viewed this report as conformation of the obvious—that you can’t “damage” formations without consequence. The pro-fracking crowd—including oil and gas companies like EnCana: the company accused of groundwater contamination in Pavilion, WY—viewed it as a premature statement with negative consequences to the energy industry. Both sides felt like there needed to be more investigation to confirm the results, because it may be nuts that you can set your tap water on fire, but just because an oil and gas company is drilling nearby, that doesn’t automatically mean that they’re to blame.

By Zarateman (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t speak the language, but this *might* just be an anti-fracking poster… Dotting the i with a skull is a bit of a giveaway

At the time, the EPA stated that it would continue their investigation to conclusively link fracking to groundwater contamination. As of October 2012, the EPA stated that another round of tests had turned up similar results. However, this week, the EPA announced that it’s dropping their investigation to have independent scientists confirm the link between the two.

So… what happened?

Well, I guess that depends on who you ask. Someone like EnCana would view the EPA dropping their case as a victory, noting that the EPA is essentially stopped their investigation to prove the tie between fracking and groundwater contamination because they can’t. As for the EPA’s prior findings? EnCana says, “the EPA’s results were based on faulty testing.”

Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute, said, the “EPA has to do a better job, because another fatally flawed water study could have a big impact on how the nation develops its massive energy resources.” Many would argue that the damage from the 2011 report has already been done.

The EPA, of course, says otherwise. According to EPA spokesman, Tom Reynolds, “We stand behind our work and the data, but EPA recognizes the state’s commitment to further investigation.” Others would argue that there are more important things to do with the federal budget at this time. The EPA has stated that they reserve the right to open back up their investigation at any time, even if, you know, they won’t (unless it’s politically advantageous at the time).

Part of the problem was that the EPA couldn’t find expert peer reviewers for their report. The Federal Register announced that reviewers, “needed to be free from the appearance of any conflict of interest and have the necessary expertise to review the findings.”

Free from conflict of interest… in regards to fracking… Right…

Not surprisingly, the public comments period got extended three times, and they still didn’t get what they needed.

So… what now?

The EPA is allowing Wyoming to continue their investigation and at least one side of the debate won’t believe the “independent” results—whatever they are.

In a joint statement, the state and the EPA announced that they do not “plan to rely upon the conclusions” of the EPA studies. With the EPA (formerly) heading up the investigation, no one would’ve been surprised if fracking and groundwater contamination came out linked. Now that a (largely) pro oil and gas state is heading up the investigation—with EnCana putting in a $1.5 million grant to help the process along—no one will be surprised when the new conclusions go the opposite way of what the EPA found.

Regardless of whether most people have already made their decision on the value of fracking, there are laws being made based on what government and independent testing have to say. A state like Vermont, who jumped to be the first state to ban fracking in 2012, doesn’t count. Many viewed it as a political move, as they hardly have any fracking applications to ban in the first place.

And really, that’s what most of this is: The movement of political weight. It isn’t one political party or the other. It’s all of the above. 

Don’t believe me? I’ll remind you that an EPA representative recently called to “crucify” the oil and gas industry right as a pro-oil and gas Congressman said that, “We need to cut the legs off the EPA.” Call me crazy, but I call the (metaphorical) threats of death and limb removal, even to entities, to mean that the debate isn’t going to be fair.

While I figured that it wouldn’t take the current political administration long to come against the oil and gas industry, it came quicker than I thought, as the Obama administration announced to reduce the amount of federal land designated for oil shale development by two-thirds.

Personally, I translate that as, “Okay, oil and gas industry, we’ve still got the perception war won for now. You’ve currently taken the data war in regards to fracking, but we’re going to limit your pursuit of that energy resource anyway.” More on that next time.

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Colin McKay Miller is the VP of Marketing for the SpiroFlo Holdings group of companies:

SpiroFlo for residential hot water savings (delivered 35% faster with up to a 5% volume savings on every hot water outlet in the home) and industrial water purification (biofilm removal).

Vortex Tools for extending the life of oil and gas wells (recovering up to 10 times more NGLs, reducing flowback startup times, replacing VRUs, eliminating paraffin and freezing in winter, etc.).

Ecotech for cost-effective non-thermal drying (for biosolids, sugar beets, etc.) and safe movement of materials (including potash and soda ash).

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