Residents near Pavillion, Wyoming, successfully argued that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling was unsafe and contaminating their water wells. Tests conducted by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed their fears and since then, the small town of less than 300 people that stood on the doorstep to an economic boom is facing the harsh reality of an area that’s been scarred by the drilling.
The issue, like it does in other areas of the U.S. where fracking is conducted, has polarized the community. There are those who believe fracking drilling for natural gas is polluting the air and water around them and then there are some who see the energy exploration process as a key to their economic future.
According to a Bloomberg report, property values near Pavillion have dropped considerably since the EPA released the results of its testing on water samples collected from concerned residents. This is the only place in the U.S. where the EPA has been willing to acknowledge that fracking drilling was responsible for contaminating their water. Business owners say sales have plummeted and some are closing their doors.
Many of the hundreds of wells operating near Pavillion are owned by Canadian drilling outfit Encana Inc. The company denies the EPA’s findings and is aligning residents of the town who believe in the purported benefits of fracking to have the agency redo its testing in hopes it will find that fracking can not be blamed for contaminating water wells in the area.
In the meantime, Encana has begun buying out property owners, offering lump sums of money for their land so they can freely frack it. Some residents told Bloomberg they wish that Encana would offer them the same deal because they can not sell their properties ever since the EPA ruled that fracking had contaminated the water there.
Fracking is a means of getting natural gas from underground shale formations. Oil can be extracted, too, but a majority of the thousands of wells opened in the U.S. since 2000 have been looking for natural gas deposits. The process employs the use of a drill, sand, fresh water, and a mix of more than 500 chemicals which are ushered at high pressure through an underground horizontal well that stretches two miles below the surface until it reaches the rock.
The drilling mix blasts apart the rock and releases natural gas. This is all rushed back to the surface. This is all supposed to be collected at the surface but due to the general unsafe nature of fracking drilling combined with slipshod well construction has caused fracking fluid (including the known toxins included in the drilling chemicals) to leak into underground fissures created by the process and through seams in poorly constructed wells. This is how these contaminants found their way into the wells of people living near Pavillion.
Thousands more people across the country share the sentiments of those living near that small Wyoming town but the EPA has not confirmed that their claims of fracking-related contamination.
Seeing how the EPA’s decision has impacted the business environment in the state, leaders in Wyoming have asked the agency to redo its testing to see if another factor could be causing the contamination. Those tests, according to the report, are expected soon.