In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA) Lisa Jackson Thursday, Republican Sens. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and David Vitter of Louisiana blasted the agency’s decision to again delay the public comment period on the controversial draft report examining groundwater contamination near Pavillion, WY.

Comments were due Tuesday, but the EPA has pushed back the deadline until Sept. 30 (see Shale Daily, Jan. 14).

The EPA first released the draft report in December 2011, linking hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to contamination of groundwater in Pavillion, WY. This erupted into a major controvery between the EPA, the state of Wyoming, Pavillion residents and Encana Oil & Gas, which drills in the area. Now Inhofe and Vitter have joined the fray. “I have had major concerns about this report from the very beginning,” wrote Inhofe.

The comment extension is the “latest sign of trouble for the highly criticized draft report,” the senators said. “The additional eight-month delay further illustrates that the EPA’s initial findings failed to be based on sound credible science, and were hastily rushed out the door for political purposes.”

By extending the comment period, it “allows the agency’s unsubstantiated claims to remain unchecked in order to justify an administration-wide effort to hinder and unnecessarily regulate hydraulic fracturing [fracking] on the federal level,” the senators said.

The draft EPA report, which set off the controversy, concluded that chemicals normally used in natural gas production practices, including fracking, were present in groundwater samples collected in Pavillion over a two-year period (see Shale Daily, Dec. 13, 2011). It was the first time a federal agency had linked groundwater pollution with fracking.At the time the EPA noted the Pavillion field had a different configuration from most and the results could not necessarily be carried over to other locations.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead disputed the EPA’s findings and offered to participate in a joint investigation with the federal agency. When the results of that second investigation were published, Mead again objected, saying tests done unilaterally by EPA were flawed (see Shale Daily,Oct. 3, 2012).

Encana Oil & Gas has made numerous calls for the EPA to withdraw the report — and suspend its associated public comment period — on the grounds that the agency’s testing methods were flawed.

Encana noted that as far back as the 1880s, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported poor water quality in the Pavillion. More recent USGS reports dating back to 1959 have documented Pavillion water as unsatisfactory for domestic use due to high concentrations of naturally occurring sulfate, total dissolved solids and pH levels which commonly exceed state and federal drinking water standards.

Pavillion is a shallow natural gas field, the producer said. Naturally occurring methane exists throughout the subsurface geology. Pavillion is unusual in that commercial natural gas is present at depths as shallow as 1,100 feet because there is no cap rock forming a barrier between the deeper natural gas and shallow intervals.