EPA finds toxic chemicals in water supply near fracking sites in Wyoming

December 10, 2011

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Thursday it found chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas in water supplies in Wyoming. The preliminary findings seem to confirm the fears of environmentalists that hydraulic fracturing can contaminate aquifers, but the gas industry called the EPA's release of the results "irresponsible" and claimed political motivations for the announcement.

The EPA's findings are based on two deep wells drilled to monitor water in the aquifer located in Pavillion, Wyoming. The EPA says that sampling turned up compounds "likely associated with gas production practices" in the monitoring wells in addition to private and public drinking wells. These compounds included "glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels."

A statement from the EPA explains:
    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.
Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver, said the findings raise concern about the community's access to safe drinking waters. It is therefore maintaining an earlier recommendation that local residents use "alternate sources of water for drinking and cooking" and ventilation when showering.

Environmentalists immediately welcomed the announcement.

"In Wyoming, EPA is recognizing what experts -- along with families in fracking communities across the country -- have known for some time," Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC) told the Associated Press. "Fracking poses serious threats to safe drinking water."

But the natural gas industry dismissed the findings.

“The draft report coming out of the EPA today is reckless,” said Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. “Unsubstantiated statements coming from the EPA today stretch the data and cause unwarranted alarm and concern about a proven technology that allows our industry to safely extract oil and natural gas. The EPA’s announcement is irresponsible and leads us to call into question its motives.”

Hinchey asserted that the monitoring wells were drilled deeper than wells used for drinking water supplies and the chemicals detected could have come from other sources.

Nonetheless residents of Pavillion have expressed concern about their water since natural gas development began. Calgary-based Encana Corp. owns about 150 wells in Pavillion and has been providing drinking water to roughly 20 families there since August 2010, according to the company.

The situation in Pavillion was featured in "Gasland" a 2010 documentary film that highlighted worries about fracking.

EPA Groundwater Investigation - Pavillion.

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EPA finds toxic chemicals in water supply near fracking sites in Wyoming.