Is Fracking Behind Water Problems at Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation?

People living on the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming have been warned not to drink their well water after it was found to be contaminated with benzene and other toxins. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now trying to determine if nearby gas drilling operations that utilize hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are to blame.

The Wind River Indian Reservation includes the town of Pavillion. 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 EPA began sampling water in the 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.

In September, the EPA announced it had found benzene, as well as metals, naphthalene, phenols, methane and other contaminants in groundwater and in area wells. According to the agency, at least three water wells contained a chemical used in the fracking process. Some residents of the reservation have been told not to drink their water and to use fans and ventilation while bathing or washing clothes to avoid the risk of explosion.

The EPA has not reached any conclusions about the sources of chemical compounds found in drinking water wells, including fracking as a possible cause. 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 EPA warning came just a month after 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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