Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency unexpectedly extended the public-comments period for its report on fracking and water contamination in Pavillion, Wyo. Industry groups tell me they’re skeptical about the motives behind this decision.
If the EPA could prove that fracking caused water contamination in the small Wyoming town, it would be an unprecedented discovery. (So far, even Lisa Jackson has been forced to admit there’s no such proven connection.) But the Pavillion study is potentially problematic, as I’ve written recently.
Here’s what Simon Lomax, spokesman for Energy In Depth, told me:
EPA officials have been defensive about the Pavillion report for a long time, but this announcement shows they are really running scared. By holding the comment period open, they are delaying the start of the peer-review process, which is going to be rough. That’s because there are more federal agencies criticizing the EPA’s work in Pavillion than defending it, and there’s mounting evidence that the agency’s poorly drilled monitoring wells tainted the very groundwater it was trying to sample. Of course, the EPA could simply admit its mistakes and withdraw the report. That would be the responsible course of action, but instead, the EPA’s just going keep running from its mistakes for another eight months.
Encana Oil & Gas is the company drilling in Pavillion, and its spokesperson, Doug Hock, tells me that the EPA’s decision yesterday is “very disappointing. It’s a disservice not only to Encana, but to the people of Pavillion and the State of Wyoming. There’s no credible reason for any further delay on this issue.”
The EPA’s official press statement said:
EPA has announced an eight month extension to September 30, 2013 for the public comment period of the draft research report titled, “Investigation of Ground Water Contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming.” During this time EPA will continue its public outreach activities including meeting with key stakeholders and posting additional technical information on the agency’s website. This extension will allow the public additional opportunity to comment on EPA’s draft report and the latest round of sampling conducted by EPA and USGS. The Agency will take into account new data, further stakeholder input, and public comment as it continues to review the status of the Pavillion investigation and considers options for moving forward.
I called and e-mailed the EPA this morning, asking whether the agency sought to delay peer review by extending the comment period, as Energy In Depth has suggested. I also asked how the EPA would respond to criticisms of its scientific method in the Pavillion study. The EPA spokesperson didn’t answer either of these questions directly, instead sending me the following response:
As our statement says, the extension will allow the public additional opportunity to comment on EPA’s draft report and the latest round of sampling conducted by EPA and USGS. EPA will take into account new data, further stakeholder input, and public comment as we continue to review the status of the Pavillion investigation and consider options for moving forward.
What do you think, readers? Is this standard bureaucracy, or is the decision to extend the comments period on the fracking study politically motivated?