EPA Blames Fracking for Wyoming Groundwater Contamination
Susan Phillips, StateImpact/NPR, December 8, 2011
For the first time, the US EPA has directly implicated the controversial drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as fracking) as the source of groundwater contamination in Pavillion, a small community in central Wyoming. The EPA began investigating water quality concerns in private drinking water wells three years ago at the request of Pavillion residents.
The investigation results (read the draft report here) linking fracking and groundwater pollution could have widespread repercussions. Several states, including New York and Pennsylvania, are in the midst of creating new gas-drilling regulations. But industry representatives insist, along with the head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), that no persuasive or direct evidence exists to link fracking to water quality impacts. DEP Secretary Michael Krancer recently testified in Congress that the idea that fracking pollutes groundwater is “bogus.”
However, the EPA reports that it found high concentrations of benzene, xylene, gasoline and diesel fuel in shallow groundwater aquifers that they linked to wastewater pits. The report also documents a number of fracking chemicals in much deeper monitoring wells, where several synthetic chemicals consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, such as glycols and alcohols, were detected, along with high methane levels and benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards. Given the area’s complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to the groundwater contamination, the EPA is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time.
Alberta-based Encana, which owns the Pavillion gas field, told the Associated Press that it has concerns about the study. Encana spokesman Doug Hock said that the compounds EPA said could be associated with fracking could have had other origins not related to gas development. “Those could just have likely been brought about by contamination in their sampling process or construction of their well,” Hock said.
As a follow-up question, the reporter asked the EPA about the health risks of drinking the water. Click here for the EPA's response.