EnCana takes over funding of govt study into fracking water contamination

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What promised to be a ground-breaking report into the effects of natural gas hydraulic fracturing on groundwater has devolved into a classic case of the fox in charge of the hen house.

The US Environmental Protection Agency’s hotly anticipated study into links between fracking and water contamination in Wyoming has been co-opted by the very company whose activities it was investigating – Canadian natural gas titan, EnCana.

ProPublica is reporting that the Wyoming study – a draft of which was published in 2011, stirring up significant controversy and opposition from industry – has been abandoned by the EPA to Wyoming state authorities and will now be funded by EnCana.

EnCana is also at the centre of a high-profile lawsuit regarding water contamination being brought in Alberta court by Jessica Ernst, an environmental consultant with 30 years experience working in oil and gas. Ernst herself released a landmark compendium of evidenceregarding water contamination from fracking last month.

The draft 2011 Wyoming report found carcinogenic fracking fluids in a pair of deep groundwater monitoring wells drilled into an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyoming. Local residents had been complaining that drilling “fouled their water has turned up alarming levels of underground pollution,” according to ProPublica – which has been doing leading-edge investigative work into the impacts of fracking on water from several years now.

Now, ProPublica reveals that the EPA is backing away from the research – which was the first of its kind to establish a scientific link between fracking and groundwater contamination – under significant pressure from the industry.

Industry advocates say the EPA’s turnabout reflects an overdue recognition that it had over-reached on fracking and that its science was critically flawed.

But environmentalists see an agency that is systematically disengaging from any research that could be perceived as questioning the safety of fracking or oil drilling, even as President Obama lays out a plan to combat climate change that rests heavily on the use of natural gas.

Over the past 15 months, they point out, the EPA has:

  • Closed an investigation into groundwater pollution in Dimock, Pa., saying the level of contamination was below federal safety triggers.
  • Abandoned its claim that a driller in Parker County, Texas, was responsible for methane gas bubbling up in residents’ faucets, even though a geologist hired by the agency confirmed this finding.
  • Sharply revised downward a 2010 estimate showing that leaking gas from wells and pipelines was contributing to climate change, crediting better pollution controls by the drilling industry even as other reports indicate the leaks may be larger than previously thought.
  • Failed to enforce a statutory ban on using diesel fuel in fracking.

“We’re seeing a pattern that is of great concern,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington. “They need to make sure that scientific investigations are thorough enough to ensure that the public is getting a full scientific explanation.”

The agency is publicly maintaining the above developments and issues are unrelated, yet, according to ProPublica, “In private conversations…high-ranking agency officials acknowledge that fierce pressure from the drilling industry and its powerful allies on Capitol Hill – as well as financial constraints and a delicate policy balance sought by the White House — is squelching their ability to scrutinize not only the effects of oil and gas drilling, but other environmental protections as well.”

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About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

4 thoughts on “EnCana takes over funding of govt study into fracking water contamination

  1. Tuesday, 09 July 2013 11:13 posted by Alan McCreary

    Harper is turning Canada into a banana republic. Many Central and South America countries (i.e. Chili, Belize) have great environmental protection laws but no money to enforce them.

    Monday, 08 July 2013 16:50 posted by the salamander fire

    Thanks for this report …

    A constant curious and caring, aggressive flow of truth & honesty from concerned citizens, strict & accurate evidence based science, responsible biology and strong journalism and independent media.. will overcome carpetbagger evangelical lickspittle bad whisky sellout politics, corporatism, greed, entitlement, fraud and hypocrisy dangerous to the good health of the nation and it citizens.

    Put another way .. who would accept the nonsense flowing from frauds and shills and deceivers like Peter Kent, Joe Oliver, Keith Ashfield et al .. when they can also review the perspectives and proven analysis of exemplars such as Kibenge, Suzuki, Morton, Schindler, yourself etc ..

    We need to get the evidence onto the scales of justice and common sense.. in full view of the electorate and the media.. and the puny falsehoods of our government onto the other side of the scales.. Anyone with a lick of sense will see which way the scales tip ..

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