Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Few minds changed by EPA's Dimock report.

Last week the EPA released it's final report on Dimock, PA finding the water in 61 wells safe to drink, and declaring "This set of sampling did not show levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action," The report itself is very long, 674 pages. While it is unclear whether a resolution can be reached over fracking in Dimock itself, outside of the town no opinions have been changed on both sides of the controversy.

The reactions on-line have been interesting.  Industry boosters and pro-gas drilling types who usually have no use for regulations or environmental agencies were suddenly singing the EPA's praises, while the anti-fracking world was up in arms.  Considering the length of the report, I doubt either group has read it, as viewpoints have been formed and reactions are reflexive with little substance. Just a few examples:

Susie Madrack at "Crooks and Liars" is not happy:
Would that be the same EPA that let BP off the hook for the massive Gulf oil spill? The same EPA that says it's safe to eat Gulf seafood? Just wondering, since they don't seem to have a very good track record with "facts"
A scientist named Ron Brown disagrees with the EPA (don't have any info on him):
Overall, these observations suggest that many of these homeowners’ water wells are significantly contaminated with a variety of pollutants in concentrations which are of concern to public health professionals.  In fact, EPA officials requested the ATSDR to study the drinking water situation in Dimock, PA, but now make no reference to that health risk report (ATSDR Record of Activity/Technical Assist UJD #: IBD7 Date: 12/28/2011).  Neither do they make any recommendations in concert with its conclusions.  In spite of this glaring discrepancy, Region 3 officials state: “Throughout EPA’s work in Dimock, the Agency has used the best available scientific data to provide clarity to Dimock residents and address their concerns about the safety of their drinking water.”
Lisa Barr at the hard left Counter-Punch thinks the EPA is simply corrupt:

Both politicians take money from the companies pushing for a ‘new national grid’–when we could convert our old empty factories to make solar panels we could install on every home and factory.  Who needs a grid?  Who needs the oil companies?  Who needs regulators who don’t do their jobs?
What I documented a few weeks ago is monumental evidence of federal agency corruption.   They thought they could get away with it in the modest rural home of Craig and Julie Sauter
Ross Eisenberg of the National Association of Manufacturers says the report shows Pennsylvania's regulations are working:
Will this settle things once and for all?  Of course not.  But it does seem to indicate that Pennsylvania’s fracking regulations are working.  That’s important because, partly based on fears that contamination may be occurring, the federal government jumped in and started regulating hydraulic fracturing.
J.D. Krohn of Energy in Depth declares the final curtain drawn over the issue:
To most of our readers this announcement will not come as a surprise.  After all, EPA’s findings affirm previous results from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Cabot Oil and Gas.  This seems to be, with any luck for the residents of Dimock, the final nail in the coffin of the Dimock saga.
So with all the results released where does that leave the situation in Dimock?
After four years of study, and countless state and federal resources spent assessing the situation, we now know that the water in Dimock is safe and meets drinking water standards.
Marcellus Drilling News takes some potshots at the litigants
Of course the 11 families who are suing Cabot Oil & Gas in hopes of a big payday, and the anti-drilling activists who are using those families by stoking their fears, accuse the EPA of “misrepresenting the data.” But the EPA says not so fast:
EPA spokesman Roy Seneca defended the quality of the testing Friday, saying "the agency has used the best available scientific data to provide clarity to Dimock residents and address their concerns about the safety of their drinking water."*
The EPA has had a few additional requests to do testing, and they want to retest a few wells, just to dot every i and cross every t. And then they will issue a final report:
"Once all of the sample results are complete, we will conduct a comprehensive review to determine if there are any trends or patterns in the data as it relates to home well water quality," Seneca said.*
Seeing the handwriting on the wall, the families suing Cabot are apparently now in a negotiating mood, to try and salvage anything they can from their attempt to extract money from Cabot
To me, these reactions  fit one of two mid-sets we always see in any controversy involving industry and environmental effects, either the "industry is good and harmless and anyone who criticizes it is doing so because they are leftists opposed to freedom" or the "anything a corporation does has to bad because they are evil" viewpoints. The problem is that both these narrow viewpoints demand that scientific data support their preformed conclusions, in other words unscientific inductive reasoning.  When it doesn't the response is to attack the scientists and the report without pointing out exactly where the errors or obfuscations are.  We saw this when MDN didn't like the Myers' report and also in Counter Punches' reaction to the EPA report.  That's not to say misleading or fraudulent scientific reports have not been produced (e.g. the tobacco industry), nevertheless examples of  unethical behavior in the past does not constitute evidence that a report whose conclusion you do not like is also corrupted.

Truth be told, I am doubtful of the benefits of hydrofracking natural gas from tight shales and concerned about the effects and dangers.  I don't trust powerful corporations to regulate themselves, in fact I don't trust any institution or organization to self-regulate, even ones I consider necessary and well-run. None are immune. But I don't expect scientific data to conform to my opinions.  Allegations are easy and cheap, if you throw out an accusation of corruption and falsification at scientists over a scientific report, back it up.

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