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Wyoming water pollution linked with fracking

An EPA test well in Pavilion, Wyoming, where the agency found pollutants in groundwater and drinking water wells. The EPA said the chemicals are likely linked with natural gas drilling and related fracking operations.

Draft EPA report on Pavilion water contamination posted for public comment

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —After a two-year investigation in Wyoming, the EPA this week released a draft report that links polluted groundwater in the town of Pavilion with nearby gas drilling and related fracking operations.

The EPA teamed up with gas field owner Encana to assess groundwater quality in the area and to identify potential sources of contamination.

The EPA’s analysis of samples taken fromdeep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicates detection of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids.

Benzene concentrations are  well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels were also detectecd.

Given the area’s complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to ground water contamination, the EPA is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time.

“EPA’s highest priority remains ensuring that Pavillion residents have access to safe drinking water,” said Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver. “We will continue to work cooperatively with the State, Tribes, Encana and the community to secure long-term drinking water solutions. We look forward to having these findings in the draft report informed by a transparent and public review process. In consultation with the Tribes, EPA will also work with the State on additional investigation of the Pavillion field.”

EPA constructed two deep monitoring wells to sample water in the aquifer. The draft report indicates that ground water in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.

EPA also re-tested private and public drinking water wells in the community. The samples were consistent with chemicals identified in earlier EPA results released in 2010 and are generally below established health and safety standards.

To ensure a transparent and rigorous analysis, EPA is releasing these findings for public comment and will submit them to an independent scientific review panel. The draft findings announced today are specific to Pavillion, where the fracturing is taking place in and below the drinking water aquifer and in close proximity to drinking water wells – production conditions different from those in many other areas of the country.

In Pavillion-area drinking water wells, chemicals detected in the most recent samples are consistent with those identified in earlier EPA samples and include methane, other petroleum hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds. The presence of these compounds is consistent with migration from areas of gas production. Detections in drinking water wells are generally below established health and safety standards.

Before issuing the draft report, EPA shared preliminary data with, and obtained feedback from, Wyoming state officials, Encana, Tribes and Pavillion residents. The draft report is available for a 45 day public comment period and a 30 day peer-review process led by a panel of independent scientists.

Colorado environmental activists used the draft report to reinforce their arguments for stricter controls on drilling.

“Industry likes to say contamination from fracking is inconceivable,” said Colorado Environmental Coalition energy organizer Charlie Montgomery. “The EPA’s finding tells a different story, that contamination is a very real possibility and that communities today might be dealing with the fallout right now. While the announcement isn’t full confirmation of a missing link, the announcement suggests this is the time for maximum care and caution in how Colorado regulates fracking in our state.”

Fracking is short-hand for hydraulic fracturing and involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to open fissures and improve the flow of oil or gas to the surface.
The industry has long contended that fracking is safe and poses no risk. According to a story from the Associated Press today, the EPA announcement is the first step in a process of opening up its findings for review by the public and other scientists.
The EPA emphasized that the findings are specific to the Pavillion area.
In Colorado, regulators are considering requiring oil and gas companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in fracking.
The public and industry representatives packed an 11-hour hearing before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission over the issue on Monday, Dec. 5.  One key issue is whether trade secrets would have to be disclosed and how quickly the information would have be turned over.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is scheduled to deliberate the proposed rules on Monday, Dec. 12.
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One Response

  1. “One key issue. . . . . whether trade secrets. . . . . . “, industry speak for CYA. No wonder the GOP wants to dismantle the EPA, then all the polluting industries would have free reign to do as they please. Once the industry starts, there’s no stopping before damage is done. Too much is at stake here to let a small group destroy the precious supply of water, just for their greedy short term bottom line profits.

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