RRC Sends Letter in Response to EPA Draft Report on Alleged Groundwater Contamination in Wyoming


AUSTIN ––Texas Railroad Commissioners this week voted in favor of sending a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to an EPA Draft Report released on Dec. 8, 2011 in which the EPA attempted to link groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracturing in Pavillion, Wyoming.

In the letter, the Commissioners urged EPA to classify the Draft Report as a “highly influential scientific assessment” as requested by several members of Congress.

“The Railroad Commission of Texas bases its regulatory decisions on science and fact,” said Chairman Elizabeth Ames Jones. “It appears EPA reached its conclusions based on limited and questionable data.”

Commissioner Barry Smitherman said, "Unfortunately, the EPA seems to be using the same template here that they did in the Range Resources case: first, make a preliminary, unproven assertion that will be perceived by the media and the public as a condemnation of hydraulic fracturing, then quietly back away once the science has proved the assertions to be false."

Commissioner David Porter said, “This is one more example of the federal government trying to pre-empt state regulatory authority in the oil and gas industry and it must be stopped.”

The Commissioners highlighted a number of concerns in their letter about EPA's draft report, including the fact that EPA did not consider other potential sources of poor water quality in Pavillion, and also dismissed reports of problems with groundwater quality in the Pavillion area prior to any hydraulic fracturing activity in the area.

The Commissioners noted that EPA’s language in the Draft Report strongly insinuates that hydraulic fracturing is the only possible reason for the poor quality of water in the Pavillion area.

EPA stressed that its findings in this draft report are unique to Pavillion, Wyoming, where fracturing has taken place both in and below the drinking water aquifer, conditions that are not common elsewhere in the United States or Texas.

There have been no documented cases of the process of hydraulic fracturing harming groundwater in Texas. The Commission's stringent rules on how oil and gas wells are constructed, requiring several layers of steel casing and cement protection through aquifers, has been essential in ensuring hydraulic fracturing has not impacted Texas groundwater.

Usable quality groundwater has not been impacted in Texas because the fracturing of tight shales occurs very deep underground, and strict well construction requirements ensure no hydraulic fracturing fluid can escape the wellbore. In Texas, hydraulic fracturing occurs sometimes a mile or more below aquifers, with many thousands of feet of isolating rock in between fresh water zones and the hydraulically fractured zone.

Click HERE to view a copy of the Railroad Commission’s letter to the EPA.