Wyoming Regulators, EPA will Test Pavillion Wells for Fracking Pollution

Environmental regulators in Wyoming have joined a federal effort testing the impact of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling on water supplies in the state.

Late last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the initial results of testing done at exploratory wells the agency dug in 2010 as it sought to answer questions about the potential impact of fracking drilling on groundwater and other local water supplies. The EPA found that drilling near Pavilion, Wyo., was responsible for localized reports of water contamination as it found elements of fracking in its exploratory wells.

EPA testing found evidence of glycols and alcohols consistent with those used in the controversial fracking process, according to a report from Bloomberg. Those results were criticized by Encana, the natural gas company responsible for much of the fracking drilling being conducted near Pavilion. The company said the EPA was taking a narrow approach when analyzing those results and urged local environmental officials to take a second look.

State and tribal leaders responded to Encana’s complaints and ordered a “peer-reviewed” analysis of those results. Wyoming and the tribal leaders agreed to put that review to the side while they and the EPA conducted two more rounds of sampling at the federal agency’s exploratory wells it dug two years ago.

This week, the EPA was joined by Wyoming regulators and tribal leaders governing that area near Pavilion for a second round of testing at those well sites. State officials have expressed some skepticism over the EPA’s initial findings. In a joint statement, officials from each organization said the follow-up tests at the Pavilion wells would “clarify” the findings from the first round of tests.

EPA’s revelation last year that fracking drilling was responsible for localized water contamination was certainly news to those who have long believed the natural gas capturing process was responsible for water and air contamination and for impacting the health of those living closest to wells. During a recent boom in fracking activity, mostly in the Mid Atlantic, there has been a drastic increase in the number of complaints of fracking-related contamination of private water wells, land surrounding active wells, and of local waterways nearest those wells.

Dozens of property owners in Pennsylvania claim their wells are nearly useless and completely contaminated due to fracking drilling nearby. Their efforts at seeking justice for that contamination have been stymied by a reluctance on the part of federal regulators to admit that fracking drilling can be responsible for water contamination.

Since the EPA released the results of that initial round of testing, it has empowered more local communities to take action against future fracking drilling. More municipalities in the Mid Atlantic have taken a proactive step in banning the drilling activity and some have had those bans upheld through court challenges from representatives of the industry.

Fracking employs the use of hundreds of chemicals, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, sand, and a drill. At least 60 of the 600 or more chemicals used in fracking are known toxins, including benzene and diesel fuel. These elements are ushered through an underground horizontal well until they reach a bed of shale up to two miles below the surface. When it reaches the rock, it is blasted apart, releasing natural gas. The drilling fluid and gas are rushed to the surface to be collected by the driller.

In many cases, problems have occurred due to shoddy well construction and to a general disbelief that fracking can ever be conducted safely. People living within a mile of an active well believe dangerous build-up of methane gas and other contaminants caused by the fracking process have breached their private water wells, in many cases rendering them completely unusable and unsafe.

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