EPA says contamination in Wyo. linked to fracking
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
A new study by the federal Environmental Protection Agency indicates that groundwater in the Pavillion, Wyo., area probably was contaminated by a controversial gas-drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing.
If the findings hold up, it will be the second time that the agency has determined that “fracking,” as the technique is known, has polluted groundwater supplies.
The first was in 1987, according to an EPA report unearthed by the Earthjustice and Environmental Working Group organizations.
In that report, the EPA concluded that fracking had contaminated groundwater and domestic well water in West Virginia.
The industry contested those findings at the time, and is contesting the new study from Pavillion.
“We feel this is not due to our operations, and there are a lot of questions that remain to be answered,” said Doug Hock, spokesman for Encana Oil and Gas (USA), which operates the gas wells in the Pavillion area.
The latest EPA study has been released in a draft form, and the agency is seeking comments from the public, as well as submitting it for a formal peer review.
The agency has spent nearly three years investigating complaints from residents of the area, who say their well water tasted and smelled bad following fracking at nearby gas wells.
Fracking, used in 90 percent of the natural gas wells drilled by the industry, involves the injection of huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals deep in the earth to break up rock formations and make it easier for gas and oil to flow to the surface.
According to an abstract of the study’s findings, the gas wells in the Pavillion area, which is west of Riverton on the Wind River Indian Reservation, are fracked at depths as shallow as 1,200 feet.
Domestic and stock wells, the study reported, go as deep as 800 feet below the surface.
The report stated that shallow monitoring wells, at depths of roughly 100 feet, detected high concentrations of benzene, xylenes, gasoline-range organics, diesel-range organics and hydrocarbons. The agency reported these substances may have come from nearby pits used to store produced water, or from waste products that rise to the surface following the fracking of a well.
Other compounds, detected in two deeper monitoring wells drilled to nearly 800 feet, included toluene and ethylbenzene.
These compounds commonly are found in the fluids associated with the drilling and fracking of gas wells.
The gas industry has long maintained that fracking is safe, noting that there has never been conclusive evidence of groundwater contamination from fracking activities.
And the EPA emphasized that the findings of the study are specific to the Pavillion area, and may not apply to other areas where fracking occurs.
This is mostly due to the fact that geologic conditions differ in, for example, the Piceance Basin of western Colorado, compared to the conditions in central Wyoming, according to the agency.
Hock, speaking for Encana, told the Post Independent that there is much to question about the draft study.
The compounds the EPA said could be associated with fracking, he said, could have had other origins not related to gas development, as indicated by such phrases in the EPA report as “likely associated with oil and gas drilling activities,” he noted.
“Those could just as likely have been brought about by contamination in their sampling process or construction of their well,” Hock said.
“This really isn’t a conclusion; it’s more like a probability, and we’d say it’s a pretty poor one,” he added.
Hock also said the study has no direct bearing on fracking activities in the Piceance Basin.
The only local case of hydrocarbons contaminating local water sources, he said, were in the Divide Creek area in 2004, which was due to the failure of a well casing.
He said no such failure has been detected since then, despite extensive monitoring and testing.
Critics of fracking, who have long warned that it could contaminate drinking water and pose a hazard to human health, said the study vindicates that position.
“This latest development exacerbates the industry’s existing credibility problem as it tries to sell this risky technology to the American public,” said Kate Freid, communications manager for Food and Water Watch, a consumer safety organization located in Washington, D.C.
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