A retest of water in Pavillion, Wyoming, found evidence of many of the same gases and compounds the Environmental Protection Agency used to link contamination there to hydraulic fracturing, the first finding of that kind.
A U.S. Geological Survey report on its water testing of one monitoring well near the rural Wyoming town -- where some residents complain that gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing contaminated their drinking supplies -- identified levels of methane, ethane, diesel compounds and phenol, which the EPA had also identified in its report last year.
The latest data are “generally consistent,” with the agency’s finding, Alisha Johnson, an EPA spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. The USGS said it didn’t interpret the results, which were given to state officials.
The driller, Encana Corp. (ECA), said it’s not responsible for the pollutants in the water.
The EPA’s draft report in December was the first U.S. government finding to link hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and water contamination.
“At a quick glance, these results appear consistent with the earlier EPA study,” Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Duke University, said in an e-mail. “The stray gas concentrations are very high, not only for methane but especially for ethane and propane. That combination suggests a fossil-fuel source for the gases.”
The EPA has also retested water in Pavillion, including at homeowners’ wells, and hasn’t released those results. It has briefed the owners.
“The recommendation still stands that we don’t cook or drink our water,” John Fenton, a farmer there, said in an interview, describing a recent conversation he had with EPA officials. The results “are running pretty much the same as they have in the past.”
Encana, based in Calgary, 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 argued that contaminants found in water wells are naturally occurring, and the two test wells that the EPA drilled in 2010 were improperly constructed.
The U.S. geological agency only tested water from one of the two EPA wells, a decision that bolsters the company’s claims about deficiencies with the monitoring wells, Doug Hock, an Encana spokesman, said in an e-mail.
“From a preliminary examination of the data, there appears to be nothing surprising in these results,” Hock said.
If the EPA data and a final report uphold the initial findings, Encana could be forced to address the homeowners’ water complaints. The company is already making periodic water deliveries to about 20 area households.
“We are now waiting as analysis of this data is done,” Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said in a statement.“It should help inform” the outside review of the EPA study, he said.
Wyoming state officials, including Mead, criticized the EPA’s conclusions, and the process of preparing that 2011 report. After registering those complaints with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the agency agreed to this retest of the wells, and to call in the USGS to conduct parallel tests.
The wells in Pavillion are different than those in most areas of Pennsylvania, where residents also have complained about tainted water from fracking. These Wyoming gas wells don’t go as deep and the aquifer is closer to the gas-production zone.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses millions of gallons of chemically treated water and sand to free oil and natural gas trapped in rock. The technology helped the U.S. cut dependence on imported fuels, lower power bills and cut state unemployment from Pennsylvania to North Dakota.
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