Power & Water

EnCana to EPA: Stop public comment on Pavillion fracking report

EnCana Oil & Gas USA continues its criticism of an Environmental Protection Agency report implicating hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — as a likely contributor to polluted drinking water in Pavillion, Wyo.

On Friday, EnCana sent a letter to Paul Anastas, assistant administrator at EPA’s Office of Research & Development, complaining that the agency is moving too quickly. The Calgary-based company wants Anastas to suspend the “draft report” public comment period that began December 14 and is scheduled to close January 27.

The Federal Register notice that initiated the public comment period wasn’t clear on the topics and questions under consideration, according to EnCana. In addition, the company claims that EPA is withholding data used to back up its analysis and conclusions in the draft report, and says that that information is critical to the public comment process.

EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said the company has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain sampling and analysis data it believes is being withheld by EPA.

Jeffrey Locker stands next to a natural gas well behind his home near Pavillion. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile – click to enlarge)

“Encana does not believe the data currently available establish a connection between hydraulic fracturing and chronic, water palatability concerns in Pavillion Field. There are serious issues with the EPA’s well construction methods, sampling techniques and data analysis,” EnCana’s vice president of North Rockies Business Unit, John Schopp, wrote in the January 6 letter.

EPA’s “draft report” of the Pavillion groundwater investigation was made public December 8, intensifying the debate over the safety of fracking — the practice of pumping water, sand and chemicals under high pressure to bust open deep oil- and gas-bearing rock in the production of petrol fuels. It could be the first documented case of drinking water polluted by fracking, a development likely to fuel opposition to the practice and increase the potential for more regulatory oversight of fracking.

But EnCana is facing sharp criticism itself. A spokesman for the Wyoming Outdoor Council said EnCana’s claim that EPA is withholding information is off-base.

“That complaint takes a lot of gall considering that Encana has absolutely refused to release the chemicals they’ve used in hydraulic fracturing in the Pavillion field for the last eight years. If Encana would have provided that data it would have made this investigation a whole lot easier,” Wyoming Outdoor Council spokesman Steve Jones said in a prepared statement on Monday.

EPA’s 121-page draft report of the Pavillion groundwater investigation can be found at this web site.

Jones also took offense to EnCana’s characterization of polluted drinking water as a matter of “palatability.” He noted that EPA’s ongoing testing has found drinking water wells contain cancer-causing benzene, methane, diesel- and gasoline compounds — compounds commonly associated with chemicals used in fracking.

Based on the pollutants found in the water, several Pavillion area residents were advised by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in the fall of 2010 to not drink or cook with their well water, and to use ventilation while showering because of the water’s methane content.

“I think it’s an insult to the people of Pavillion, as well as a gross inaccuracy, to describe their concerns about their drinking water in terms of ‘palatability.’ As if it were an aesthetic question,” Jones said. “Their water has been poisoned and is dangerous to drink. It doesn’t just taste bad. It’s ruined. If they drank it it would make them sick. It’s time Encana acknowledged that.”

EnCana has been paying for commercial drinking water services to several Pavillion area residents as a temporary alternative.

EnCana bought the Pavillion natural gas field in 2004 and conducted drilling and hydraulic fracturing activities, which residents suspect fouled several drinking water wells in the rural farming community. Residents convinced EPA’s Region 8 office to investigate after years of unsatisfactory efforts by EnCana and the state of Wyoming to look into the matter.

EPA officials have said they are not commenting on the Pavillion case while the public comment period is underway.

Related stories:

 — EPA Pavillion report stokes fire over fracking

Find the source in Pavillion

EPA finds compound used in fracking in Wyoming aquifer

One man’s mystery leads to backlash against fracking

Contact Dustin Bleizeffer at (307) 577-6069 or dustin@wyofile.com.

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Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. I sent the following comment on the EPA summary page:

    ‘You issued this in the last month of 2011 and want the comment period to close in January 2011. I make this mistake in the beginning of a year too. Ooops!

    “DATES: The public comment period begins December 14, 2011, and ends January 27, 2011. Comments should be submitted to the docket or received in writing by EPA by January 27, 2011.”

    URL: http://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2011/12/14/2011-32064/draft
    BROWSER: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 5.1) AppleWebKit/535.7 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/16.0.912.63 Safari/535.7′


    How will this affect the commenting?