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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has dropped plans to have outside experts review its theory that hydraulic fracturing may have played a role in groundwater pollution in Wyoming.
The agency also no longer plans to write a final report on its research that led to the controversial finding a year and a half ago.
Instead, the EPA announced last month that state officials will lead further investigation into pollution in the Pavillion area in central Wyoming, including ways to make sure people there have clean drinking water.
“We think this is the most pragmatic, quickest way to help the residents of Pavillion. We’re going to work hand in hand with the state to make sure this investigation moves forward,” said EPA spokesman Tom Reynolds in Washington.
Industry officials who have been doubtful about the EPA’s findings since they were announced praised the change as confirmation of their view that the science wasn’t sound.
“EPA has to do a better job, because another fatally flawed water study could have a big impact on how the nation develops its massive energy resources,” Erik Milito, from the Washington, D.C.-based American Petroleum Institute, said in a news release.
EPA officials insisted they’re not backing away from their draft report on Pavillion. They said they reserve the right to resume the study and an assessment by independent experts, known as a peer review, at any point.
Even so, EPA efforts to find potential pathways for pollutants from deeper areas where gas is extracted to shallower areas tapped by domestic water wells have been inconclusive.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boosts the productivity of oil and gas wells by pumping pressurized water mixed with sand and chemicals into well holes to crack open fissures in the ground.
Richard Garrett, energy and legislative advocate with the Wyoming Outdoor Council in Lander, said he believes June’s announcement shows the EPA is finding it more difficult than originally expected to come to grips with the full environmental effect of fracking.
He noted that the EPA is pushing back other work aimed at gauging how energy production may pollute groundwater.
“It’s not surprising to me that they’re kind of taking a secondary role in rural Pavillion,” Garrett said. “It looks to me like it might be a resource issue. That goes to the federal budget, I suppose, and EPA administration.”