On Saturday, the Los Angeles Times released a report based on an internal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presentation that reveals concern for the safety of drinking water due to fracking in Dimock, Pennsylvania. According to the Times, in an EPA PowerPoint presentation from staff members of the EPA’s mid-Atlantic office in Philadelphia warned superiors that several wells were, in fact, “contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production.”
The EPA collected data from 11 wells in Dimock over a period of 4 ½ years, after years of resident complaints of contaminated water. Last year, the EPA finished its investigation and said that, for almost all of the 64 wells sampled, the water was safe to drink, and “did not show levels of contamination that could present a health concern.” Near the end of the investigation, staff at the mid-Atlantic office, which was responsible for testing Dimock’s water, urged the EPA to continue its assessment.
The EPA stated that the PowerPoint was authentic; however, they attributed the presentation to a single employee.
“This presentation represents one [on-scene coordinator’s] thoughts regarding 12 samples and was not shared with the public because it was a preliminary evaluation that requires additional assessment in order to ascertain its quality and validity,” EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson told the Times. But incidences of flammable tap water, contaminated wells, and negative health effects due to natural gas exploration have been reported for years.
In 2010, Gasland director Josh Fox provided a first-hand look into the homes of residents of Pennsylvania, including Dimock, and cities and states across the country. What the film exposed was widespread contamination of water tables, and thereby wells, as a result of careless natural gas exploration practices.
The EPA has been subject to pressure and interference from politicians representing industry interests. The natural gas industry and its supporters have persistently attempted to kill EPA investigations of fracking and water contamination.
In March 2012, the EPA agreed to drop a lawsuit against Range Resources Corp. that would have required the company to fix natural gas wells in Parker County, Texas. The suit held the Fort Worth-based drilling company accountable for methane contamination of water wells in Parker County. Then, in June 2013, the EPA abandoned its investigation into water contamination from fracking in Wyoming.
After dropping the study, which included a 2011 draft report stating that fracking was responsible for the pollution of an aquifer below Pavillion, Wyoming, the EPA allowed the state of Wyoming to continue the investigation. The state’s research will be funded by EnCana – the drilling company responsible for the contamination.
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), an infamous climate change denier and former ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, harassed the EPA, seeking repeated briefings and explanations of the amount of money it spent on labs to check water samples for contamination. He also called the EPA’s finding that fracking contributed to water contamination in Pavillion, WY, “unsubstantiated,” and part of an “administration-wide effort to hinder and unnecessarily regulate hydraulic fracturing on the federal level,” ProPublica reports.
After the EPA backed down from three recent investigations, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science Committee, taunted that the EPA was “forced to retract their statements after further scrutiny proved them to be unfounded.”
And if the GOP is successful in cutting the EPA’s budget by 34 percent, the EPA’s ability to conduct studies and testing will become even more limited, that is, if the Environmental Protection Agency intends to continue conducting studies, despite industry pressure.