EPA says wells in Wyoming show possible pollution from frac’ing
August 28, 2009
Government scientists believe they have found indications that natural-gas drilling activities may have polluted groundwater sources in Wyoming.
Scientists testing water from domestic wells in the area around Pavillion, Wyo., for the Environmental Protection Agency say they have found methane gas, hydrocarbons, lead and copper in water from the well of a rancher named Louis Meeks.
When Meeks submitted water from a second well, according to reports published by the ProPublica nonprofit news organization, the same substances were detected. Scientists reportedly found traces of those and other contaminants, known to be used in drilling procedures, in 11 of 39 wells tested since March.
The company with wells near Meeks’ land, the Canadian-based energy giant, EnCana, reportedly has begun supplying Meeks’ ranch with potable water until further tests can be completed.
This reportedly is the first time the EPA has undertaken its own water analysis in response to complaints of contamination in drilling areas.
EnCana is a major player in Western Colorado’s natural gas industry, and has been a target of accusations from local critics who claim that the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “frac’ing,” has caused pollution to enter groundwater supplies in Western Garfield County.
Frac’ing, a drilling practice that the gas industry says is crucial to recovering hard-to-reach gas and oil pockets deep underground, involves the injection of sand, water and chemicals into a well after it is drilled. The high-pressure compound fractures the subterranean strata and releases the gas or oil to flow to the surface.
Some Garfield County residents have reported a variety of illnesses and other problems after gas-drilling rigs began operating close to their homes.
In one case, a landowner convinced state authorities to impose a moratorium on drilling in the Divide Creek area south of Silt, although the moratorium was subsequently lifted after tests did not conclusively prove that the industry was responsible for contaminating the water.
EnCana spokesman Doug Hock, contacted Thursday, stressed that no conclusions have been reached as a result of the EPA tests. The industry has firmly maintained that there is no proof that frac’ing causes groundwater pollution.
“We’re working closely with EPA to find out exactly what the nature of these contaminants are,” Hock said, noting that the EPA has not yet asked EnCana for a complete list of the chemicals it uses in the frac’ing process. He also said EnCana has not done any frac’ing in the area around Pavillion since 2007.
When asked whether the company would provide that list, Hock said, “We’ll provide whatever information is requested.” He said there has been oil drilling in that part of Wyoming for 50 years or so, and that EnCana currently has 248 wells in the general region.
Garfield County’s liaison to the oil and gas industry, Judy Jordan, noted that “you can’t say whether water has been contaminated with constituents [ingredients of the frac’ing fluids] until you look for it.”
And, she noted, until now researchers had not been actively looking for frac’ing-fluid chemicals in domestic water wells near gas-drilling zones.
Congress currently is mulling over legislation, introduced by Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette, aimed at requiring gas companies to disclose, at least to the government, exactly what chemicals are used in frac’ing and in what proportions.
Known as the “recipe” for each company’s particular frac’ing compound, the exact list and proportions currently are treated as proprietary information by gas companies.
The industry as a whole is fighting the DeGette bill, known as the FRAC (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals) Act, maintaining it is unnecessary and that such oversight should be left up to the individual states.
Kristofer Eisenla, chief of staff for DeGette, said the congresswoman finds the preliminary reports “definitely of concern” and that she supports continued testing of the wells to determine exactly where the contaminants came from.