Friday, December 9, 2011

Gas-Fracking Chemicals Detected in Wyoming Aquifer, EPA Says

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said for the first time it found chemicals used in extracting natural gas through hydraulic fracturing in a drinking-water aquifer in west-central Wyoming.

Samples taken from two deep water-monitoring wells near a gas field in Pavillion, Wyoming, showed synthetic chemicals such as glycols and alcohols “consistent with gas production and hydraulic-fracturing fluids,” the agency said today in an e- mailed statement.

The U.S. gets about one-third of its gas from fracturing, or fracking, in which millions of gallons of chemically treated water and sand are forced underground to break rock and let trapped vapor flow. The findings give ammunition to environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, that have said the drilling risks tainting drinking water and needs stronger regulation.

“This is just evidence of why we need better rules,” Amy Mall, senior policy analyst for the group in Washington, said in an interview. “It’s a game-changer. EPA experts and scientists have recognized that there is real contamination, that there is a real scientific basis for linking it to fracking.”

After complaints from residents of Pavillion, about 230 miles (370 kilometers) northeast of Salt Lake City, the EPA began investigating private drinking-water wells about three years ago. Calgary-based Encana Corp. (ECA), Canada’s largest natural- gas producer, owns about 150 wells in Pavillion, according to spokesman Doug Hock.

‘Not Definitive’

“They’ve used terms like ‘likely,’” Hock said today in an interview. “What they’ve come up with here is a probability. It’s not a definitive conclusion.”

Synthetic chemicals discovered in the aquifer are just as likely “the result of contamination from their own sampling,” he said.

Industry representatives such as Aubrey McClendon, chairman and chief executive officer of Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK), the most active U.S. oil and natural-gas driller among well operators, have said there haven’t been proven cases of fracking fluids contaminating drinking water.

“Try not to be the 51st person to write a story about the alleged contamination of somebody’s water well from fracking,” McClendon said April 8 at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “There have been some issues with drilling wells. They don’t come from fracking.”

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