Far be it from the EPA to admit it was wrong — but late last week, it subtly withdrew from a once-flashy investigation regarding whether hydraulic fracturing contaminated groundwater in the tiny town of Pavillion, Wyo. Never has backpedaling been such an effective form of transportation.
In December 2011, the EPA released a draft report of a study it conducted in Wyoming, eliciting a furor of media attention. The New York Times reported that “chemicals used to hydraulically fracture rocks in drilling for natural gas in a remote valley in central Wyoming are the likely cause of contaminated local water supplies, federal regulators said.” The Financial Times ran a story headlined “EPA blames fracking for Wyoming pollution.” National Public Radio announced that “for the first time, federal environmental regulators have made a direct link between the controversial drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing and groundwater contamination.” And the Salt Lake Tribune ran an editorial subtitled “EPA report shows water poisoned.”
In reality, the study conclusively proved no such thing. The research was fundamentally flawed, with the conclusion being derived less from science than from politics.
For starters, the EPA’s study was released in preliminary form, and it was never peer-reviewed. In fact, the EPA went out of its way to ensure that Wyoming’s governor and state agencies didn’t have a chance to look it over before it became publicly available. And when the study was released, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the Wyoming Bureau of Land Management both expressed significant concerns about the EPA’s conclusions.
Had professional scientists had a chance to review the EPA’s preliminary study before it hit the headlines, they doubtless would have complained that only four samples were examined — not nearly enough to be scientifically definitive.
Lewis, I'm not at all surprised. Why burden anyone with the facts, especially when "the political science" can be used like a club to stop most anything of economic/market value? The only question that this escapade triggers in my mind is how many other examples are there where EPA political science trumped EPA measurement science?