Leaked Report Shows EPA Censored Dimock's Fracking Water Contamination Study
By Kate Sinding
The Los Angeles Times published a story yesterday reporting on a leaked document that indicates that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has never conveyed to the public the possibility that methane released during drilling “and perhaps during the fracking process" resulted in “significant," and possibly long-term, “damage to the water quality" of a drinking water source for 19 families in Dimock, PA, even though some staff believed this was the case.
The story reports that this crucial interpretation—which stands in stark contrast to the narrative being pushed by industry that the EPA found Dimock's water to be “safe"—was evidently presented to the highest level staff in the region sometime in the spring of 2012.
Yet the EPA closed its investigation of contaminated drinking water supplies in Dimock just months later (July 2012), declaring that it was no longer necessary for residents to be provided with alternative drinking water supplies. In doing so, it provided no justification based on the data it had in its possession, which some believed pointed to significant and possibly long-term damage to local drinking water.
The EPA simply walked away and asked the public and the residents of Dimock to take its word for it. Indeed, the agency did not even mention the word “methane" at all in its press release announcing the end of the investigation. As a result, it was widely reported in the mainstream press that the EPA had found the water in Dimock was “safe" to drink, as reported in USA Today and elsewhere. This perception persists among many in the general public.
If this news is true, why has the EPA failed to provide a proper scientific explanation for effectively declaring Dimock's water safe, and why has it abandoned the residents of Dimock? Is it because of pressure from the oil & gas industry? The people of Dimock deserve some answers.
What Happened in Dimock?
In 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection determined that shoddy drilling practices by Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation had resulted in methane contamination of a large aquifer in Dimock, polluting the drinking water of 19 families. The state's enforcement against Cabot then followed a tortured path: it first prohibited Cabot from drilling any further wells in the area. Then the state lifted that ban, and subsequently promised the residents of Dimock a new pipeline to supply uncontaminated drinking water from a neighboring community. Then it rescinded that promise.
Concerned about the state's spotty enforcement, on behalf of the Dimock residents, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) asked the EPA to step in and launch its own investigation of the water quality. But when the EPA released the results of its investigation, effectively declaring Dimock's water safe, it failed to share two important pieces of information.
First, it did not share that Cabot had contaminated the water with dangerously high levels of methane.
Second, it limited the scope of its discussion to whether certain federal standards for specific contaminants—not including methane—were exceeded.
That was ostensibly because the investigation was pursuant to the EPA's specific and limited powers under the federal “Superfund" law and Safe Drinking Water Act only. These laws do not specify standards for all contaminants that may present a risk to human health and/or the potability of a water supply, including methane, certain other organic compounds and new/uncommon chemicals such as those that may be used in drilling and fracking operations.
Critically, though, some of the EPA's initial memos did reference, and express concern about the potential health impacts of, other such contaminants that were found in the families' water—including glycol compounds, Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthlate (DEHP) and 2-methoxyethanol.
But evidently a decision was made not to discuss or further pursue them in the final analysis. Indeed, the agency did not report that multiple other contaminants were, in fact, detected, at levels below those specified under those laws. And none of these contaminants, including methane, were mentioned in the EPA's final determination. Nor did the EPA mention that the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry was—and is still—continuing an investigation into the potential short- and long-term health risks of using Dimock water with these chemicals present.
Yet, the leaked report made public yesterday suggests that the EPA basically declared that Dimock residents' water was okay to drink, despite the fact that some of its own staff believed that it showed serious contamination, possibly from fracking, that was likely to persist for a long time. It suggests that the EPA's own consultants, and perhaps field staff, believed not only that the Dimock aquifer had been contaminated by high levels of methane from the Marcellus Shale, but that this contamination resulted in “significant damage to the water quality."
So, once again, we are left with the question why—in the face of these doubts,—the EPA would decide to terminate its investigation in Dimock without making public any analysis of its data that supports its decision to walk away, and instead keep internal dissenting views a secret. And why—a year later—haven't they investigated those views further to determine the level of risk?
Troubling Trend at the EPA
Unfortunately, what appears to have happened in Dimock, PA, is just the latest in a larger, troubling trend we're seeing of the EPA failing to act on science in controversial fracking cases across the country. Instead, the agency appears to be systematically pulling back from high-profile fracking investigations.
First, in March of 2012—without explanation—the EPA abruptly withdrew an emergency order it had issued two years earlier against Range Resources Corporation after the agency found nearby natural gas production operations from the company had likely caused methane and toxic chemical contamination in Parker County, TX, drinking water supplies. The order had required Range Resources to provide families with alternative water supplies, install explosivity meters in homes and remediate the aquifer.
But there is no evidence the company ever fully completed these or other requirements of the order. Yet the agency withdrew the emergency order. In fact, reports indicate the water there remains contaminated and a health threat, and the EPA Inspector General is investigating the matter.
On top of that, the Associated Press reported that a leaked confidential report proved that the EPA had scientific evidence against Range, but changed course after the company threatened not to cooperate with the agency's ongoing national study of fracking. The Associated Press also reported that interviews with the company confirmed this. When asked to explain its actions in light of all of this, the EPA's silence has been deafening.
Then, in late June 2013, EPA made an equally abrupt and unexplained announcement that it was abandoning an investigation into a high-profile drinking water contamination case in Pavillion, WY. That report generated fierce pushback from the oil and gas industry. Even though the U.S. Geologic Survey released its own data in 2012 that backed up the EPA's findings, suddenly, and without any meaningful explanation, the agency announced that it would not finalize its report and instead would leave matters in the hands of Wyoming regulators. As in Parker County and Dimock, these state regulators are the reason the EPA stepped in to begin with—because they had not given adequate attention to residents' drinking water complaints in the first place.
Now it seems the third shoe drops in Dimock—the latest in what was a triumvirate of highly anticipated federal fracking-related investigations.
Not only does this pattern of behavior leave impacted residents in the lurch, but it raises important questions as to whether the agency is caving to pressure from industry, antagonistic members of Congress and/or other outside sources.
Implications for the EPA's Ongoing Fracking Study
This trend also calls into serious question the agency's commitment to conducting an impartial, comprehensive assessment of the risks fracking presents to drinking water—a first-of-its-kind study that is now in its fourth year, with initial results now promised in 2014. The EPA recently announced that it had delayed the expected final date of this study by 2 years.
With communities across the country already suffering the consequences, it must deliver an impartial and thorough evaluation of the risks.
The EPA has said that there is no connection between its dropping its investigations in Dimock, Pavillion and Parker County, and that it remains committed to its national study. But if the EPA is really committed to understanding the risks of fracking to drinking water, then it doesn't make sense that the agency would drop the investigations in these three cases, where they have been collecting substantial data. By abandoning these inquiries and leaving them in the hands of state regulators that, in each case having shown they are not up to the task, the EPA is walking away from important scientific information and analysis.
Our federal government has a responsibility to protect the citizens in communities that are suffering consequences from fracking and to give them the full facts. It owes it to the American people to fully and fairly investigate every case that can help to answer some of the vexing scientific questions as to whether, and if so how, fracking and related activities contaminate drinking water. Sadly, the EPA's recent pattern of activity suggests neither has been happening.
If what we're hearing is true, this is a disturbing indication that the EPA may not be telling the American people everything it knows about the risks of fracking or providing them with the explanations that they deserve. Americans are counting on the administration to protect them against an industry that's running wild, but it is falling down on the job from one community to the next.
Visit EcoWatch's FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
By Robert J. Orth, Jonathan Lefcheck and Karen McGlathery
A century ago Virginia's coastal lagoons were a natural paradise. Fishing boats bobbed on the waves as geese flocked overhead. Beneath the surface, miles of seagrass gently swayed in the surf, making the seabed look like a vast underwater prairie.
Why Didn’t Seagrasses Recover Naturally?<p>Development, nutrient runoff and other human impacts have damaged marshes, mangroves, coral reefs and seagrasses in many bays and estuaries worldwide. Loss or shrinkage of these key habitats has reduced commercial fisheries, increased erosion, made coastlines more vulnerable to floods and storms and harmed many types of aquatic life. Rapid climate change has compounded these effects through <a href="https://theconversation.com/ocean-warming-has-fisheries-on-the-move-helping-some-but-hurting-more-116248" target="_blank">rising global temperatures</a>, more <a href="https://theconversation.com/more-frequent-and-intense-tropical-storms-mean-less-recovery-time-for-the-worlds-coastlines-123335" target="_blank">frequent and severe storms</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/as-climate-change-alters-the-oceans-what-will-happen-to-dungeness-crabs-61501" target="_blank">ocean acidification</a>.</p><p>In the late 1990s, local residents told two of us who are longtime students of seagrasses (Robert "JJ" Orth and Karen McGlathery) that they had spotted small patches of eelgrass in shallow waters off Virginia's eastern shore. For years the conventional view had been that seagrasses in this area had not recovered from the events of the 1930s because human activities had <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquabot.2005.07.007" target="_blank">made the area inhospitable for them</a>.</p><p>But studies showed that water quality in these coastal bays was <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02782971" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">comparatively good</a>. This led us to explore a different explanation: Seeds from healthy seagrass populations elsewhere along the Atlantic coast simply weren't reaching these isolated bays. Seagrasses are underwater flowering plants, so seeds are among the main ways they reproduce and spread to new environments.</p>
Eelgrass beds were restored in four bays at the southern tip of Virginia's eastern shore on the Atlantic coast. David J. Wilcox/VIMS, CC BY-ND
Sowing a New Crop<p>From our <a href="https://doi.org/10.2307/1941597" target="_blank">earlier research</a>, we knew that when eelgrass seeds fall from the parent plant, they sink to the sea bottom quickly and don't move far from where they land. We also knew that these seeds don't germinate until late fall or early winter. This meant that if we collected the seeds in spring, when eelgrass flowers, we could hold them until the fall, helping them survive over the months in between.</p><p>We decided to try reseeding eelgrass in the areas where they were missing. Starting in 1999, we collected seeds by hand from underwater meadows in nearby Chesapeake Bay – plucking the long reproductive shoots, bringing them back to our laboratory and holding them in large outdoor seawater tanks until they released their seeds naturally. After about 10 years we started gathering the grasses using a custom-built underwater "lawn mower" to collect many more of the reproductive shoots than we could by hand.</p><p>In 2001 we sowed our first round by simply tossing seeds from a boat. Our first test plots covered 28 acres of mud flats in waters 2 to 3 feet deep. Returning the following year, we saw new seedlings sprouting up.</p><p>Each year since then, the <a href="https://www.vims.edu/" target="_blank">Virginia Institute of Marine Science</a> and the <a href="https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/virginia/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nature Conservancy's Virginia Coast Reserve</a>, along with staff and students from the <a href="https://www.vcrlter.virginia.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Virginia</a>, have led a team of scientists and citizens to collect and seed a combined 536 acres of bare bottom in several coastal bays.</p><p>These initial plots took off and rapidly expanded. By 2020 they covered 9,600 acres across four bays. Several factors helped them flourish. These bays are naturally flushed with cool, clean water from the Atlantic Ocean. And they lie off the tip of Virginia's eastern shore, where there is little coastal development.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a482c2146febd6782c99960c2b55feb8"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K9NyfPLINtk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Sheltering Marine Life and Storing Carbon<p>Since eelgrass disappeared from these bays in the 1930s, human understanding of seagrass ecosystems has evolved. Today people don't pack their walls full of seagrass insulation but instead value different services they provide, such as habitat for fish and shellfish – including many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12645" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">commercially and recreationally important species</a>.</p><p>Scientists and government agencies also have recognized the importance of coastal systems in capturing and storing so-called "<a href="https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/bluecarbon.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">blue carbon</a>." In fact, we now know that seagrasses constitute a globally significant <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1477" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon sink</a>. They are a key tool for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-64094-1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slowing climate change</a></p><p>We are working to understand the valuable services that our restored seagrass beds provide. To our surprise, fish and invertebrates returned within only a few years as the meadows expanded. These organisms have established extensive food webs that include species ranging from tiny seahorses to 6-foot-long sandbar sharks.<br></p><p>Other benefits were equally dramatic. Water in the bays become clearer as the seagrass canopy trapped floating particles and deposited them onto the bottom, burying significant stocks of carbon and nitrogen in sediments bound by the grasses' roots. Our research is the first to verify the overall net carbon captured by seagrass, and is now being used to issue carbon offset credits that in turn <a href="https://vaseagrant.org/eelgrass-carbon-credits/" target="_blank">create more funds for restoration</a>.</p><p>One big question was whether restoring seagrasses could make it possible to bring back bay scallops, which once generated millions of dollars for the local economy. Since bay scallops no longer existed in Virginia, we obtained broodstock from North Carolina, which we have <a href="https://chesapeakebaymagazine.com/return-of-the-bay-scallop/" target="_blank">reared and released annually</a> since 2013. Regular surveys now reveal a growing population of bay scallops in the restored eelgrass, although there is still some way to go before they reach levels seen in the 1930s.</p>
Restored seagrass beds (dark areas) along Virginia's Atlantic coast, with sunlight reflecting from a small island. Jonathan Lefcheck, CC BY-ND
A Model for Coastal Restoration<p>Repairing damaged ecosystems is such an urgent mission worldwide that the United Nations has designated 2021-2030 as the <a href="https://www.decadeonrestoration.org/" target="_blank">U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration</a>. We see the success we have achieved with eelgrass restoration as a prime model for similar efforts in coastal areas around the world.</p><p>Our project focused not only on reviving this essential habitat, but also on charting how restoring seagrasses affected the ecosystem and on the co-restoration of bay scallops. It provides a road map for involving scholars, nonprofits organizations, citizens and government agencies in an ecological mission where they can see the results of their work.</p><p>Recent assessments show that the restored zone only covers about 30% of the total habitable bottom in our project area. With continued support, eelgrass – and the many benefits it provides – may continue to thrive and expand well into the 21st century.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jessica Corbett
Leaders of climate and conservation groups on Tuesday welcomed House Democrats' introduction of landmark legislation that aims to address the ocean impacts of human-caused global heating and reform federal ocean management—recognizing that, as Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva put it, "a healthy ocean is key to fighting the climate crisis."
<div id="a858f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="99d487bc34e6e570edd2a3089e616347"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318606309256798208" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🎥 We're live! @NRDems, @RepRaulGrijalva, and @USRepKCastor are unveiling #OceanClimateAction legislation. W… https://t.co/pPdylA6cKQ</div> — Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (@Select Committee on the Climate Crisis)<a href="https://twitter.com/ClimateCrisis/statuses/1318606309256798208">1603215217.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="17f05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="28d7040a5dd41c4d26fed8e93a225655"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318614724842524674" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">.@RepRaulGrijalva’s climate bill will ignite #OceanClimateAction to help fight inequality by prioritizing funding f… https://t.co/oeH1W214em</div> — NRDC 🌎🏡 (@NRDC 🌎🏡)<a href="https://twitter.com/NRDC/statuses/1318614724842524674">1603217223.0</a></blockquote></div>
- COVID-19 Masks Are Polluting Beaches and Oceans - EcoWatch ›
- Satellite Imagery Helps Detect Ocean Plastic Pollution - EcoWatch ›
- 3 Innovations Leading the Fight to Save Our Ocean - EcoWatch ›
Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?
Almost 300,000 more Americans have died during the first ten months of the coronavirus pandemic than would be expected in an average year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Tuesday.
- White House Ordered Coronavirus Meetings Be Classified - EcoWatch ›
- As Trump Pushes U.S. to Reopen, Internal Document Projects 3,000 ... ›
- As Coronavirus Infections Rise, CDC Is Criticized - EcoWatch ›
- As CDC Says 'Do Not Go to Work,' Trump Says Thousands With ... ›
By Julia Conley
A federal judge in Washington, D.C. late Sunday struck down the Trump administration's proposed changes to the SNAP benefits program, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of people from losing badly needed federal food assistance.
<div id="e8d44" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="be49aabc36a5465eed30ca54f88f6b2d"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318171686232096772" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">A judge has ruled in our favor and blocked the Trump administration’s unlawful changes to SNAP. This decision is… https://t.co/5zeTafxMLm</div> — NY AG James (@NY AG James)<a href="https://twitter.com/NewYorkStateAG/statuses/1318171686232096772">1603111595.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="f47ab" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="381daa45528adda7398d5628d047294f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318175677724676096" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">There's a lot of competition for Vilest Policy Ever, but slashing food stamps during a pandemic that's causing mass… https://t.co/EYvb0C8Q3m</div> — Tamar Haspel (@Tamar Haspel)<a href="https://twitter.com/TamarHaspel/statuses/1318175677724676096">1603112546.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="946d8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3cff2dc2643fc55ab21d2a73881c7de8"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318168614541950976" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Trump: yes to Space Force, no to Food Stamps. Another equation that might be remembered in a few weeks. https://t.co/9IEDBaMy2o</div> — Matt Taibbi (@Matt Taibbi)<a href="https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/statuses/1318168614541950976">1603110862.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"Trump: yes to Space Force, no to Food Stamps," Taibbi tweeted.</p>
- Trump Wants to Replace Food Stamps With Food Packages ... ›
- Trump Complains Puerto Rico Getting 'Too Much' Disaster Aid as ... ›
- Trump USDA Resumes Effort to Cut Food Stamp Benefits - EcoWatch ›