Awkward: Day After EPA Finds Fracking Does Not Pollute Water, Top Oil Regulator Resigns Over Water Contamination

Put this one in the awkward file: just hours after the EPA released yet another massive study (literally, at just under 1000 pages) which found no evidence that fracking led to widespread pollution of drinking water (an outcome welcome by the oil industry and its backers and criticized by environmental groups), the director of the California Department of Conservation,  which oversees the agency that regulates the state's oil and gas industry, resigned as the culmination of a scandal over the contamination of California's water supply by fracking wastewater dumping.

An aerial view of pits containing production water from oil wells near California 33 and Lokern Road in Kern County

This is what the allegedly impartial EPA said on Thursday when it released its long awaited study: "we did not find evidence that [hydraulic fracking has] led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States."

Tom Burke, science adviser and deputy assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Research and Development, told NPR that "we found the hydraulic fracturing activities in the United States are carried out in a way that has not led to widespread systemic impacts on drinking water resources. In fact, the number of documented impacts to drinking water resources is relatively low when compared to the number of fractured wells."

In retrospect the EPA surely wishes it had picked a slightly different time and date to release its "imparial" results because less than 24 hours later on Friday afternoon, Mark Nechodom, director of the California Department of Conservation who was appointed by governor Jerry Brown three years ago, abruptly resigned following an outcry over oil companies injecting their wastewater into Central Valley aquifers that were supposed to be protected by law.

As LA Times reports, Nechodom "was named this week in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of a group of Kern County farmers who allege that Brown, the oil and gas division and others conspired with oil companies to allow the illegal injections and to create a more lax regulatory environment for energy firms."

The lawsuit was filed under federal racketeering statutes and claims the conspiracy deprived Kern County farmers of access to clean water.

According to SF Gate, Nechodom announced his resignation in a brief letter to John Laird, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency. The Conservation Department is part of the resources agency. “I have appreciated being part of this team and helping to guide it through a difficult time,” Nechodom wrote

Ironically, California's oil regulator, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, has been facing scrutiny from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after allowing oil producers to drill thousands of oilfield wastewater disposal wells into federally protected aquifers.

It was not immediately clear if the oil companies which commissioned the EPA study "clearing" fracking are also charged in the wastewater dumping case but the answer is "probably."

Attorney Rex Parris, whose firm filed the lawsuit, said in a written statement Friday that the case alleges a broad and complex conspiracy involving other officials.“We are not surprised that Nechodom resigned a day after the filing of this lawsuit,” Parris said. “We are confident he is just one of many resignations to come."

In one tense hearing before lawmakers in March, Nechodom received a barrage of criticism from elected officials who recited one oversight failure after another. Nechodom sat stone-faced during the hearing, but eventually agreed, saying, “We all fell down.”

It gets better:

Nechodom's resignation was unexpected, although he had increasingly been called upon by state officials to explain problems in the oil and gas division’s oversight of the oil industry and a parade of embarrassing blunders.

 

The Department of Conservation failed to meet an April 30 deadline for making public a broad range of information regarding the source, volume and disposal of water used in oil and gas production.

The punchline: "Nechodom blamed the reporting failure on “unforeseeable personnel and technical challenges." Well at least he did not blame an "internal procedural error", the passive voice excuse used by the ECB when it was revealed it had leaked critical details of its monetary policy to a select group of hedge funds.

So how does one reconcile the seeming contradiction between Nechodom's fall from grace and the fact that quite clearly, fracking has had a drastic impact on the quality of drinking water in California, with the EPA's finding which bombastically states the following:

This state-of-the-science assessment contributes to the understanding of the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources and the factors that may influence those impacts. The findings in this assessment can be used by federal, state, tribal, and local officials; industry; and the public to better understand and address any vulnerabilities of drinking water resources to hydraulic fracturing activities.

In other words, use the "state-of-the-science" findings" to demolish all allegations that the oil industry may not have the public interest in mind... just ignore the farce that took place one day later with the director California Department of Conservation.

But how is this possible? For the answer we go to a recent letter by the editor in chief of The Lancet, one of the world's best known medical journals, who without fear proclaims what many have known intuitively most of their adult lives, namely that half of all "scientific literature" is false. To wit:

“The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.”

In other words, half of what you read anywhere, especially in "scientific" literature, is a lie.

Which brings us to the last line of the EPA executive summary: "This assessment can also be used to help facilitate and inform dialogue among interested stakeholders, and support future efforts, including: providing context to site-specific exposure or risk assessments, local and regional public health assessments, and assessments of cumulative impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources over time or over defined geographic areas of interest. Finally, and most importantly, this assessment advances the scientific basis for decisions by federal, state, tribal, and local officials, industry, and the public, on how best to protect drinking water resources now and in the future."

Great job. The only thing left missing is the disclosure of how many billions in "donations" and "lobby spending" it took the oil industry for the EPA to goalseek the findings of this "impartial, scientific" organization.