For the first time, groundwater pollution has been linked to hydraulic fracturing. According to a statement released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday, chemicals in an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyoming are “likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.”
According to a report from Bloomberg News, Calgary-based Encana Corp. (ECA), Canada’s largest natural- gas producer, owns about 150 wells in Pavillion. As we’ve reported previously, residents of Pavillion have long maintained that fracking was fouling their drinking water wells, and the EPA has been investigating since 2008. Last year, the EPA warned some Pavillion residents not to drink or cook with their well water and to ventilate their homes when they showered. Encana has been providing drinking water to about 21 families in Pavillion since August, 2010.
As part of its investigation, the EPA constructed two deep monitoring wells to sample water in the aquifer. Samples taken from those wells indicates detection of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels, the EPA said. The agency is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time, given the area’s complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to ground water contamination.
Fracking chemicals may have entered the aquifer through faulty well construction, gaps in impermeable rock or fractures created during drilling, the EPA said. A spokesperson from EnCana told Bloomberg that he wasn’t sure if Encana used the synthetic chemicals found in the aquifer when fracking wells in Pavillion.
The EPA also said that chemicals detected in the most recent samples from Pavillion area water wells were consistent with those identified in earlier EPA samples and include methane, other petroleum hydrocarbons and other chemical compounds. The presence of these compounds is consistent with migration from areas of gas production, the EPA statement said. Detections in drinking water wells are generally below established health and safety standards, according to the agency.
According to Bloomberg, the EPA’s findings in Pavillion may have finally given environmentalists the ammunition they need to push for greater regulation of hydraulic fracturing.
“This is just evidence of why we need better rules,” Amy Mall, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Bloomberg. “It’s a game-changer. EPA experts and scientists have recognized that there is real contamination, that there is a real scientific basis for linking it to fracking.”