Water well testing procedures used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) near natural gas drilling sites in Pavillion, WY, were flawed, leading to results that failed to account for naturally occurring chemicals, Encana Corp. officials claimed on Tuesday.

Following two years of water sampling, the EPA claimed in a draft report earlier this month that the groundwater in Pavillion contained chemicals that were normally used in gas production practices, such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) (see Daily GPI, Dec. 9). It is the first time a federal agency has linked drinking water pollution with fracking.

Subsidiary Encana Oil & Gas USA Inc., which is developing gas wells in the Pavillion area, objected to the report and said last week many of the EPA’s findings were “conjecture, not factual” and “only serve to trigger undue alarm” (see Daily GPI, Dec. 13).

Tuesday, Encana’s David Stewart, who runs the company’s environmental, health and safety operations in the region, detailed the company’s complaints about the EPA findings during a conference call with reporters.

“EPA made critical mistakes at almost every step of the process,” Stewart said, “from the way it designed the study to the way it drilled and completed its wells, to the way it collected and interpreted its data…” EPA, he said, made the “decision to release a preliminary copy of its report without third-party review.”

Federal investigators, Stewart said, overlooked the possibility that some of the materials detected in the area groundwater were naturally occurring. Methane, for instance, often is present at shallow depths, and water wells typically extend no more than 300 feet deep. Natural gas was found in deep test water wells drilled by the EPA but that gas “was put there by nature, not by Encana,” said Stewart.

Encana also disputes the acidity changes and man-made organic compounds found in the EPA groundwater tests, which federal regulators claimed could be linked to fracking stimulation practices. Rather, EPA may have introduced those materials when it constructed the monitoring wells since some water samples were taken when cement for the wells was curing.

“The majority of man-made organic compounds detected by the EPA are not used in hydraulic fracturing and were introduced by the EPA in the process of sampling or construction of the deep wells,” said Stewart. Only one of the EPA’s samples found those specific chemicals, he said.

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