Tests of drinking water near a natural-gas drilling site in Wyoming back up findings that established the first link by the federal government between hydraulic fracturing and tainted water, the Environmental Protection Agency said.
The EPA yesterday issued its follow-up analyses of two test wells it drilled in Pavillion and of five residents’ water wells, saying the pollutants it found were “consistent” with the results last year used to establish that connection to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Water quality in Pavillion, Wyoming, has attracted national attention since the EPA’s draft report in December showed that fracking may have contaminated homeowners’ water.
“If it’s possible here, then it’s possible elsewhere as well, and that’s why the gas industry and some state governments are fighting tooth and nail to question the results,” Alan Septoff, research director for Earthworks, a Washington-based environmental group, said in an interview. “Once that precedent is set,” it could increase pressure for more government regulation, he said.
In fracking, millions of gallons of water with chemicals and sand are shot underground to break apart underground rock and free trapped gas or oil. The technology has helped the U.S. cut dependence on imported fuels, lower power bills and cut state unemployment from Pennsylvania to North Dakota.
Critics have said it endangers water supplies, while the industry maintains that no confirmed case of such contamination has ever been demonstrated scientifically. If the Pavillion results hold up to further scrutiny, they could refute that contention.
“EPA has provided no sound scientific evidence that drilling has impacted domestic drinking-water wells in the area,” Doug Hock, a spokesman for Encana Corp. (ECA), the company that leases the natural-gas field there, said in an e-mail. “Encana didn’t put the hydrocarbons there; nature did.”
The EPA conducted the latest tests after Calgary-based Encana and Wyoming state officials criticized the EPA’s initial testing methods and preliminary conclusions.
The results from the test wells show similar levels of methane, benzene and glycol contamination as the earlier EPA tests, said Wilma Subra, who has her own testing company and works with residents in Pavillion concerned about the health effects of their water. “The results confirm what was found before,” she said.
Encana, Canada’s largest natural-gas producer, owns 140 natural-gas wells in an area of cattle and hay farms outside of Pavillion, about 230 miles (370 kilometers) northeast of Salt Lake City. The company says that contaminants found in water wells are naturally occurring, and that the two test wells the EPA drilled in 2010 were improperly constructed.
Encana provides water to about 20 area households.
The gas wells in Pavillion are different than those drilled in most areas of Pennsylvania, where residents also have complained about tainted water from fracking. The wells in the Wyoming town don’t go as deep and aren’t separated from the aquifer by thousands of feet of rock.
“This is an outcome that does not apply to shale formations” in Pennsylvania, Ohio and elsewhere, Terry Engelder, a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, said in an interview. “This is a very unique situation.”
Also yesterday, the EPA pushed back until Jan. 15 its deadline for public comment on the preliminary report and the newly released follow-up data.
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