EPA: Fracking Fouled Drinking Water

Monday, December 12, 2011 @ 04:12 PM gHale

Hydraulic fracturing in a shallow natural gas well in Wyoming contaminated a town’s drinking water, a preliminary Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said.

After three years of study, the agency concluded chemicals found in the aquifer and in individual wells were consistent with those used in hydraulic fracturing.

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The agency issued a report that will be open for public comment and scientific review. If finalized with the same conclusions, it could provide the first documented case in which “fracking” contaminated groundwater.

“Alternative explanations were carefully considered to explain individual sets of data,” the draft report said. “However, when considered together with other lines of evidence, the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing.”

Hydraulic fracturing, which has been around for more than 50 years on oil and gas wells, involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into a well to create cracks in shale formations.

The process, in tandem with horizontal drilling, has seen a growth in use to produce oil and gas previously considered too difficult to recover. It has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism as its use has expanded, and some have charged that it poses a threat to groundwater.

Though there have been incidents in which “flowback” water used in a well was improperly handled, the industry has countered criticisms of hydraulic fracturing by saying there had not been a documented case in which the process itself caused contamination.

The EPA study in Pavillion, Wyo., began in 2008 after residents complained that their water smelled and tasted bad. The residents lived near a gas field controlled by Encana, a Canadian energy company.

According to the EPA, the agency constructed two monitoring wells to sample water in the aquifer.

“EPA’s analysis of samples taken from the agency’s deep monitoring wells in the aquifer 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 agency said.

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