The EPA Tried to Cover Up This Fracking Report


DeSmogBlog has obtained a copy of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) PowerPoint presentation about fracking groundwater contamination that describes findings about Dimock, Pennsylvania — a town featured prominently in the films Gasland and Gasland 2.

The PowerPoint presentation reveals a clear link between hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas and groundwater contamination, but it was censored by the Obama administration. In its place, the EPA issued an official desk statement in July 2012 — in the thick of the election year — saying the water in Dimock is safe for consumption.

Titled “Isotech-Stable Isotype Analysis: Determining the Origin of Methane and Its Effects on the Aquifer,” the PowerPoint presentation concludes that in Cabot Oil and Gas’ Gesford 2 well, “Drilling creates pathways, either temporary or permanent, [and] that allows gas to migrate to the shallow aquifer near [the] surface .… In some cases, these gases disrupt groundwater quality.”

Other charts show that Cabot’s Gesford 3 and 9 wells have allowed methane to migrate into aquifers at unprecedented levels. Unsurprisingly, spikes in methane coincide with when the wells were fracked.

The PowerPoint’s conclusions are damning: “Methane is released during the drilling and perhaps during the fracking process and other gas well work. Methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking and other gas well work …. Methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.”

Despite its own findings, the official EPA desk statement concluded that any groundwater contamination in Dimock had occurred naturally: “EPA found hazardous substances, specifically arsenic, barium, or manganese, all of which are also naturally occurring substances, in well water at five homes at levels that could present a health concern .... EPA has provided the residents with all of their sampling results and has no further plans to conduct additional drinking water sampling in Dimock.”

Two EPA whistle-blowers recently approached the American Tradition Institute (ATI) and revealed that politics were at play in the decision to censor the EPA’s actual findings about Dimock. According to the whistle-blowers, former EPA head Lisa Jackson was at the heart of the cover-up. EnergyWire's Mike Soraghan has reported that the EPA studies were dropped “out of fear the inquiries would hurt President Obama’s reelection chances.”

The two EPA whistle-blowers' initial findings pointed to water contamination in Dimock, but they claim that their superiors told them to stop the investigation. One of the whistle-blowers said he came forward due to witnessing, “patently unethical and possibly illegal acts conducted by EPA management.”

“I have for over a year now worked within the system to try and make right the injustice and apparent unethical acts I witnessed. I have not been alone in this effort,” the unnamed whistle-blower told Soraghan. “I took an oath when I became a federal employee that I assume very solemnly.”

Former EPA head Jackson, who was at the center of the management team that released the false desk statement, now works as Apple’s top environmental adviser. Back at the EPA, Jackson was recently replaced by just-confirmed head Gina McCarthy.

Jackson's role was revealed by the second whistle-blower, who, as part of the regular duties of his job, was a member of the “HQ-Dimock” email listserv. On that list, Jackson went by the pseudonym Richard Windsor, as a way to shield her real name from potential Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

“Many members of the email group … were lawyers and members of Lisa Jackson’s inner political circle,” explained Soraghan.

ATI has filed two FOIA requests in response to the whistle-blowers' revelations. “One FOIA request seeks certain emails, text messages, or instant messages of three specified EPA field staff which are to, from, or make reference to the White House or EPA HQ,” according to ATI. “The second FOIA request focuses on emails sent as part of the ‘HQ-Dimock’ discussion group. Both requests cover the seven month period from December 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which has also been critical of the EPA on this issue, is suspicious of ATI’s motives in this case, as ATI is better known for denying climate change’s existence, and for “ClimateGate” in particular. Even so, NRDC’s Kate Sinding approves of the institute's FOIA filing and looks forward to what it discovers. “It appears to be an attempt to bully EPA out of these cases,” Sinding told EnergyWire. “If their request results in getting more information about the decision making, that’s good information for everyone. But I question their motivation.”

The question at the heart of the matter is: what were the EPA’s motives for making an about-face on a key, multiyear, tax-payer-subsidized study?

“It is unconscionable that, in the name of political expediency, the Obama administration suppressed key information that would have connected the dots between fracking and water contamination,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, told DeSmogBlog. ”Gina McCarthy must put the health and safety of Americans first and prevent the agency from succumbing to political pressure.”

Scott Ely, a former Cabot employee and Dimock resident who has three small children and whose water was contaminated by the company, expressed similar condemnation about the EPA cover-up: “When does anybody just stand by the truth? Why is it that we have a bunch of people in Washington, D.C., who are trying to manipulate the truth of what’s happening to people in Dimock because of the industry?”

Ely claims he's still in touch with EPA employees, who regularly check in and caution him not to use his water. “We thought EPA was going to come in and be our savior," Ely says. "And what’d they do? They said the truth can’t be known: hide it, drop it, forget about it.”

An earlier version of this article appeared on DeSmogBlog