Fracking Chemical, Other Contaminants Found in Wyoming Aquifer, EPA Says

At least one chemical commonly used in <"">hydraulic fracturing has turned up in an aquifer that supplies Pavillion, Wyoming, with drinking water. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitoring well has also turned up high levels of cancer-causing compounds in the Pavillion aquifer, according to a report from ProPublica.

Residents of Pavillion have long maintained that fracking was fouling their drinking water wells, and the EPA has been investigating since 2008. For roughly a decade, people living there have complained of black water, as well as water that smells like gasoline. Some have also blamed neurological impairment, loss of smell, and nerve pain on exposure to pollutants from fracking.

According to ProPublica, the EPA started drilling monitoring wells deep into the aquifer last year, after warning Pavillion residents not to drink or cook with the water and to ventilate their homes when they showered. Late last week, the agency released results of raw sampling data from the wells. The chemicals that turned up included 2-Butoxyethanol (2-BE), which is widely used in fracking, as well as the carcinogens benzene (at 50 times the level that is considered safe for people) and phenols. Also detected were acetone, toluene, naphthalene and traces of diesel fuel, ProPublica said.

Because it’s a raw data sampling, the EPA did not yet attempt to discover the source of the pollution. However, according to ProPublica, the agency said it had not found contaminants such as nitrates and fertilizers that would have indicated that agricultural activities were to blame. Also, methane gas that saturated the water samples did not match the shallower methane that the gas industry says is naturally occurring in water, but did match the gas that is found in the deep layers that are being drilled.

The EPA says it will release a lengthy draft of the Pavillion findings, including a detailed interpretation of them, later this month, according to ProPublica.

As we’ve reported previously, the Canadian drilling company EnCana began ramping up gas development in the Pavillion/Muddy Ridge field earlier this decade. However, the company has long maintained that its drilling was not to blame for the area’s water problems. According to ProPublica, EnCana has recently agreed to sell its wells in the Pavillion area to Texas-based oil and gas company Legacy Reserves for a reported $45 million. Despite the sale, EnCana has promised to continue to cooperate with the EPA’s investigation.

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