Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Fracking Report Reverberates in Texas

A draft report from the Environmental Protection Agency sent shockwaves through the industry this week. The report showed that the technique of oil and gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing lead to water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming.

Railroad Comissioner David J. Porter believes the report is flawed, but says more research should be done.

The EPA continues to research the impacts of fracking.  But this study came at the request of residents of Pavillion, Wyoming. They asked the agency to investigate drinking water they suspected was tainted from nearby wells. It took three years, but this month, the EPA announced it had found chemicals associated with Hydraulic fracturing in the water.

The news comes at a time of growing acrimony between Texas’ overwhelmingly Republican state government and the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency. So it came as little surprise when the results came under fire from some state policymakers.

“To say it was fracking plays within the ideological agenda that the EPA’s got, rather than the hard science and facts,” Railroad Commissioner David Porter told StateImpact Texas. The Texas Railroad Commission is the state agency that oversees the oil and gas industry.

Lurking behind such statements is the concern that the EPA’s findings could be used to justify stricter federal regulations or even possibly a ban on fracking.

“I think the polarized positions in the shale gas development are becoming more entrenched and so you chose up sides rather look at the evidence,” said Dr. Chip Groat, Associate Director of University of Texas’ Energy Institute.  “[That] is not a fortunate thing for either our energy future or for the validity of an environmental issue.”

Groat headed up a study that recently found no evidence of fracking contaminating water supplies. But the study did find that improper drilling and other surface activities associated with fracking can contaminate water sources. He says if the EPA’s study ends up proving that fracking itself caused the Pavilion contamination, that could throw his findings into question.

“That would negate our general conclusion that we haven’t found any evidence. This in fact would be evidence for that [contamination],” said Groat.

But Groat and others point out that the EPA draft report does not go as far as to categorically blame fracking.  Instead, the Agency is careful to list its results as preliminary, and contingent upon peer review.

In a response to a request for comment from StateImpact Texas, the EPA reiterated that its findings were “specific to production conditions at Pavillion, where fracturing occurred in and below the drinking water aquifer and in close proximity to drinking water wells.”

It’s something that state officials say doesn’t happen in Texas.

“Well hello! [fracking near the water table] is a really bad thing to do! We do not allow that, and our geology doesn’t allow for it either,” Elizabeth Ames Jones, who chairs the Railroad Commission, told StateImpact Texas.

Since the report came out, Jones has been arguing that even if the EPA report is corroborated, its findings won’t extend to drilling in Texas. The Commission says there are currently no fracking operations within close proximity to drinking water wells in the state.

“Our Geology is so different around the country. In fact, our geology is so different around Texas,” said Ames Jones.

Geologist Chip Groat says it’s a “safe statement” to say that fracking like the kind that happened in Pavillion doesn’t happen in Texas.  “We do have several thousand feet with impermeable rock layers between fracturing depths and shallow ground water,” Groat said, “so I think its a safe thing to say that conditions are much different here. And much more protective here than they are up there.”

“But,” he added, “if you have other places where the conditions are like Pavillion than you need to be careful.”

The draft report has underlined one important point. For a technology that’s already revolutionized the US energy industry, there is still a lot to learn about what hydraulic fracturing does to the environment. The EPA study is now open to public comment and under peer review by a panel of scientists.  It could make its way into a larger study the agency is conducting into the impacts of hydraulic fracturing.


  • Young

    What a terrible job of reporting. The reporter did not even bother to mention what type of contamination the town suffered or the consequences of it. To say that there has never been or that there is no correlation between fracking and water contamination is absurd. When people can light their water on fire – after fracking has taken place – as has been documented many times in Pennsylvania I think the procedure caused the problem. It is not a coincidence. 

  • Anonymous

    This piece serves the industry to the detriment of public health and safety. The industry shills quoted here know very well that placing the focus on fracking as the alleged cause of flammable drinking water is just a clever and devious distraction. The real problem is failure of cement. See  http://www.myimagehosting.com/show-778Ke5d2-130842.html. Click on the PDF icon. After 15 years 50% of wells show sustained casing pressure (SCP) indicating cement failure.

  • serena1313

    Fracking should not be bandied about as if it is merely a political issue because it is a public health concern, a water safety & shortage issue, an earthquake issue and it is a matter of life & death. Instead we get a he said/she said argument. If residents in Texas, New York, Wyoming, Pennsylvania & elsewhere in the US where fracking is taking place, were aware of the dangers they would be demanding an immediate cessation of all fracking activity. Once our water is poisoned it cannot be reversed. Once it is depleted it cannot be replaced; it is gone.

    The fracking process, for example, just for a single well requires millions of gallons
    of water to break-up the shale rock, 30% of which remains underground
    forever, to release the trapped gas. That is in addition to the 400 trucks to it takes to complete a
    single well & the fuel-guzzling equipment to carve out the 3-5 acre
    drill pad. It is a noisy, energy-intensive dirty process that is fueled by diesel oil.

    The Texas water supply infrastructure must be protected. The state’s water
    shortage is structural & is already at the critical point. The Texas
    Water Development Board reported that currently the state needs 18
    million acre-feet of water; it only has 17 million acre-feet available.
    By 2060 the state is expected to need 22 million acre-feet, but will
    have only 15.3 million acre-feet available or 2 gallons of water
    available for every 3 gallons needed. Simply put, we are running out of water. To continue fracking is insane.

    The evidence of toxic chemicals poisoning our drinking water supply & our farmlands is indisputable. You simply cannot replace poisoned water. Given the exponential rate it is being depleted there is not enough rain to replenish it either. Plus there is nowhere to contain it. Even extracting all the water ladled with toxins from the riverbeds & lakes the ground would still be contaminated. 

    Furthermore, scientist Brian Baptic seismic project team leader with British Geological Survey said data suggested the two earthquakes that occurred near Blackpool arose from the same source: Cuadrilla Resources, a British energy company that was conducting hydraulic fracking nearby at the time, suspended its operations shortly after the 2nd quake. We would be wise to follow their lead.

    Unless the media dispenses with the he said/she said and starts warning the public now it won’t matter if an immediate cessation of all fracking activities takes place or not; It’ll be too late.

  • Ktndlife08

    I have worked on a frac crew in north Dakota for 4 years now,and the last thing I want is to take my kids to the lake and swim in toxins. Let’s be honest everyone has all ready made thier mind up on this regardless of facts. Suprisenly I still have all my hair,fertility,and mental health after being in direct contact of the process. I have watched beautiful country landscapes become industrial warzones with so many flares burning in the night sky it curdles my stomach. The truth is we all drive cars fly on planes heat our homes. I’m so sick of the same people that don’t want drilling,dams,and mining, have their suv,4000 sq ft house,island vacation,and ski condo buy one prius and there green. We need a better source of energy for our future but much like our spending our consumption is greater than our means. Well guess what when you program that thermostat to 70 deg it is not magic coming out of the vents. Our lifestyles come with costs. In the name of saving our land we have killed our country. We hardly produce or manufacture anything and constantly attack what industries is left then complain there is no jobs. I truly hope there is a middle ground. Stopping fracking would not just hurt (big oil)but cost 25000 people and there families there job here in north Dakota.

    • Cipollaj

      SO..ARE YOU THEN SAYING…as long as we keep 25000 jobs, the kind that kill workers and their families, breathing in silica sand, benzine and other carcinogens, taking it home on your clothes for your wife and kids to breath in, permanently contaminating wells across the country, putting the very water supply at risk, contaminating the air at every frac site so much that ozone remains for all the innocent people to die from, and are you saying that it’s just fine if your pets die before your eyes from drinking frac water, and just so you can have a job, a VERY dangerous one, that if you get hurt and disabled the industry dumps you, you end up in poverty and it’s worth it to see your children die of leukemia or some other horrible thing caused by toxins that are indisputably used in fracing shale, and, that so you can go to work each day on a frac site, we all should be exposed to killer chemistry that will cost America it’s very existence, a national security disaster in the making, done by mostly foreign vested corporations that intend to and already are selling the gas to the highest bidder over seas. So…so you can have a job it’s worth America becoming the worlds gas station, while costing Americans their health, land, food, air and water. no water, no land, no food, no people…you can’t drink gas, eat money, or drink frac fluid, we CAn however drive t vehicles that are powered by the sun and wind and water, and we already provide electricity that way. PLEASE…don’t continue working for an industry that will use, abuse and poison you and your family,,,no job is worth losing what you have. DEMAND our government stp subsidizing dirty energy. If you are really American, and I know you are…see fracaction or shaleshock or YOUTUBE and go to any state where fracking is done,..enter sick people or dead animals…see for yourself

  • Blake

    Geologist Chip Groat worked on a study at UT Austin with an organization called Energy Institute which is an interest group organization for individuals and companies in the oil and gas business. The study was funded by the Energy Institute. Not a very ethical method to determine if the oil and gas business is violating its own regulations.

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