EARTHWORKS

Well, Frack! EPA Water Investigation in Rural Wyoming Strikes a Nerve with the Oil and Gas Industry

Jennifer Goldman's avatar
By Jennifer Goldman

August 25, 2009

Some Pavillion, Wyoming landowners have water that smells and tastes like gasoline.  It s cloudy, and particles float in it.  It didn t used to be this way.

Traditionally an agricultural community, the people of Pavillion now live with and amongst exactly one new industrial activity EnCana s gas development in the Pavillion/Muddy Ridge field.  A few years back, EnCana bought out earlier drillers and ramped up production. 

Today, Pavillion residents wonder if EnCana, or buried waste from earlier operators, is causing contamination to their drinking water wells.

In March -- after years of pleading for assistance from every possible State agency, public official and public interest group -- the EPA took samples of Pavillion s municipal and private water wells.  The range and level of potential contamination meant the area qualified for Superfund monies.

August 11th, the EPA released their finding at a public meeting. EPA s verbal and written reports stated clearly that eleven domestic water wells are contaminated.  The contaminants include methane, hydrocarbons, and a variety of toxic chemicals.  Three of the wells include 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE) (U.S. EPA contract number EP-W-05-050. Site Investigation - Analytical Results Report Pavillion Area Ground Water Investigation Pavillion, Fremont County, Wyoming TDD No. 0901-01. August 11, 2009. Page 44). 

Public response to EPA s initial findings of this contamination is striking a nerve with the oil and gas industry - and how.  

Industry immediately took issue with our press release reporting that EPA confirmed residents suspicions: water contaminants in Pavillion include known hydraulic fracturing chemicals.   Industry s almost hysterical response to this statement is more of the same:  deny, block, and delay. 

However, according to The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, Inc. s (TEDX) database of products and chemicals used in natural gas production, 2-butoxyethanol (or 2-BE) is found in more than a twenty hydraulic fracturing products and one drilling additive.   TEDX s list is not exhaustive but it s based on what oil and gas communities have been able to gather from publicly available material and information given to landowners by industry when something goes wrong near their home. 

It may be true that 2-BE can be found in household cleaners, such as Windex.  However, the idea that the landowners in Pavillion are pouring volumes of Windex or Simple Green down their wells -- as implied by industry and regulators, alike -- is unlikely.  And it s also extremely insulting to people struggling to understand the health and property implications of contaminated drinking water.  Especially when oil and gas development is so prominent in the area.   Blaming residents for being poor water well managers when industry has yet to publicly disclose the chemical constituents of its drilling operations is unconscionable.   

Industry also took issue with our suggestion that the EPA s findings in Pavillion are a good example of why we need the FRAC ActThe FRAC Act is federal legislation introduced in June that would lift the exemption for hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act, and require companies to disclose the chemicals in their fracturing products.

Contrary to what industry says, the FRAC Act is not a disguised attempt to ban hydraulic fracturing.   Instead it s a reasonable step towards understanding the types of toxics that industry proposes to use in our communities and near our water resources.  The idea behind it is to prevent future situations like Pavillion. 

Were the FRAC Act in existence now, the EPA would already be able to tell us whether or not EnCana or previous operators had used fracturing products that include 2-BE.  As it is now, the people living in Pavillion are being told that there s no way to tell for certain whether it is old drilling pits, recent hydraulic fracturing operations, or whether their neighbors are inadvertently poisoning their own wells with Simple Green or Windex.

Tagged with: toxics, pavillion, fracking, frac act, epa, encana, drinking water

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