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Some Water Wells in Wyoming Fracking Community Contaminated, EPA Says

Sep 1, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Benzene and methane gas have been found in water wells located near hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations in Pavillion, Wyoming. According to CNN, federal officials have warned owners of the wells not to drink water from them.

As we’ve reported previously, the Canadian drilling company EnCana began ramping up gas development in the Pavillion/Muddy Ridge field earlier this decade. Last year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began sampling in the Pavillion area in response to multiple landowners concerns about changes in water quality and quantity following EnCana’s increased drilling. In August of last year, the EPA announced that its initial investigations found 11 of 39 tested drinking water wells were contaminated.

Among the contaminants found then were toxics used in oil and gas production. At that time, the EPA confirmed the presence of 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE), a known constituent in hydraulic fracturing fluids, in three wells. The agency also found methane, as well as adamantanes (a form of hydrocarbon) and six other chemical compounds of concern in Pavillion wells. This, after the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) and EnCana had continually assured Pavillion residents that there was no evidence of hydrocarbons or toxic chemicals in their drinking water wells.

Now, according to CNN, EPA officials said Tuesday they found low levels of petroleum compounds in 17 of 19 drinking water wells sampled, and that nearby shallow groundwater was contaminated with high levels of petroleum compounds such as benzene. It is not known if the contaminated shallow groundwater will eventually migrate to the drinking water aquifer.

In addition to warning well owners not to drink their contaminated water, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is also recommending that it not be used for cooking.

The EPA has not reached any conclusions about the sources of chemical compounds found in drinking water wells, including fracking as a possible cause, CNN said. However, the agency said it is working with various government partners and EnCana to provide affected residents with water and to address potential sources of the contamination.

The big question, of course, is whether or not this contamination could be causing residents of Pavillion to become ill. Earlier this month, the group Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project reported that in a survey of Pavillion-area residents, four out of five participants complained of symptoms that could be linked to gas drilling operations in and around the central Wyoming town.

In addition to respiratory problems, the survey participants reported headaches, nausea, itchy skin, dizziness and other ailments. The scientist conducting the survey told the Associated Press that illnesses reported are associated with the types contaminants the EPA identified in well water last year.


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