The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently lacks the ability to regulate the booming U.S. shale gas industry; an industry that produced 8.5 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2011, up from 1.9 tf3 in 2007. The environmental-friendly, anti-business agency has struggled to grasp control of the industry in any form possible and has stalked gas-producing firms in an effort to discover any instance of environmental degradation, sanctioning federal intervention. Thus, it was a great surprise to many observers when the EPA gave up on a four year, multimillion dollar study that attempted to link hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) activities and contaminated groundwater in Pavillion, WY.
The study begin in 2009 after the EPA claims it received numerous complaints regarding drinking water quality from ground wells in Pavillion, where 169 production wells were extracting gas from lower shale formations through fracking. The EPA presented two drafts of their study, one in 2009 and another in 2012, which both lacked sufficient evidence to explain the source of contamination in the groundwater and received extensive criticism from industry and the state officials. In recent weeks, the EPA has conceded, relinquished the study and handed it over to the state of Wyoming. The agency has made two points here: it has demonstrated that groundwater contamination is not directly associated with fracking activities and it has disclosed that state agencies are the best facet for regulation and overlook when it comes to resource recovery practices.
What made Pavillion, WY such a formidable target for the EPA is its geology. Most locations in the U.S. require drilling tools to plunge 10,500 to 13,500 feet below the surface to recover shale gas. In Pavillion, the gas wells are as shallow as 1,220 feet, while wells for tapping groundwater are up to 800 feet deep. If there is a relationship between fracking and contamination, it should be sited at Pavillion due to the unusually close proximity of resources. The agency almost certainly believed that the Pavillion case was an answer to their quest of linkage. However, the EPA failed to prove any connection and could not deliberately carry on with an unwinnable mission.
The EPA demonstrated its true colors with Pavillion. It sought to provide scientific analysis to final solidify the vilification of shale gas fracking and viewed the production in the city as easy prey. Environmentalists also removed their veil by displaying contempt and dissatisfaction with the EPA’s decision to pull out due to lack of evidence. Environmentalists should be joyful that the practice to extract cleaner burning fuel does not harm the environmental through recovery, but instead they are frustrated with an inability to mandate more control over the industry. The Pavillion outcome makes it difficult to truly understand where both the EPA’s and environmentalists true intentions lie.