In a letter to Gov. Matt Mead, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defended the agency’s water contamination tests in the Pavillion area and insisted a tentative link to hydraulic fracturing isn’t yet conclusive.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in her letter sent to the governor on Thursday that she was concerned two recent letters from Mead didn’t recognize the agency’s “rigorous, transparent and objective approach” to the tests.
Those tests, spurred by residents’ complaints about contaminated water, provided data the agency released in a draft report last month. In the report, the EPA tentatively linked the controversial oil and natural gas industry practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to some water contamination in the area.
Industry and state officials cried foul, pointed out what they saw as flaws in the EPA’s report, and demanded additional information from the agency regarding its testing methods and conclusions.
In her letter to Mead, Jackson noted that the agency carefully chose its words in the report to leave room for doubt.
“We make clear that the causal link to fracturing has not been demonstrated conclusively, and that our analysis is limited to the particular geologic conditions in the Pavillion gas field and should not be applied to fracturing in other geologic settings,” Jackson wrote.
Fracking, in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break open pathways for oil and natural gas, is used to develop nearly all oil and gas wells in Wyoming, including the Pavillion field. Environmentalists and others have held up the EPA’s testing as proof that fracking can taint water supplies.
On Friday, Mead told the Star-Tribune he appreciated Jackson’s commitment to work with the state on further testing, but he wished the EPA would have gone about its investigation in Pavillion differently.
“The process would have been better if further testing and a peer review were done before releasing the draft report,” he said in an email. “I generally believe the order in which you produce sound science should be test first, review, then issue conclusions, rather than issue conclusions, review and then do more testing.”
Jackson pointed out instances where she felt the EPA had cooperated with the state, including a delayed release of the draft report to give the state time to review the report’s underlying data.
“We greatly value our partnership with the state of Wyoming and are committed to continuing it,” she wrote.
On Thursday, the EPA said it would extend the public comment period
45 days to March 12, and Jackson told Mead the agency would release additional information about its testing, including answers to questions submitted by the state in late November.
Mead and Encana Corp., the operator in the Pavillion field, had called for additional time and more information. Late Thursday, they praised the EPA’s decisions to extend the comment period and provide further testing.
Mead told the Star-Tribune on Friday he’ll continue work to get Pavillion residents a safe and reliable form of water, and review the EPA’s additional information when it’s released.
“The additional information, if complete, will be significant and I hope to get a response to our questions and to the request for all data as soon as possible,” Mead said. “We need to be led by sound science, and whatever that may be, we will accept.”