Friday, December 9, 2011

EPA Acknowledges Link Between Hydraulic Frac­tur­ing And Ground­wa­ter Contamination

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.

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