An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study has linked a contaminated Wyoming aquifer to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This is the process required to make natural gas extraction profitable, as it opens up cracks and pores in rock formations to make the gas flow. Scientists for the EPA stated that high levels of benzene were found in the water beneath Pavillion, Wyoming, which is located on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
This is not the first time fracking has been linked to water contamination, but it is the first time the Federal Government has liked the two with scientific evidence. The owner of the well is Encana Oil and Gas, and this is also not the first time Encana has been blamed for contamination due to fracking. There have been other incidents of contamination in surrounding states, and many in western Colorado, over the past several years However, up until now, very little action has been taking to address the problem as a whole. There are several states that have been experiencing increased natural gas production recently, as it is a vital part of the U.S.’s energy future, and this makes proper regulation and oversight critical. Water sampling began in the Pavillion area in 2009, and since there have been small amounts of benzene and other toxic chemicals found in the water. The chemicals found did not exceed national drinking water standards in most cases, but either way, residents were advised to get drinking water from other sources. Since Encana was drilling wells in that area, it has been providing drinking water for 21 households at a cost of approximately $1,500 monthly.
The EPA drilled two wells for this study, and in both cases found a large number of chemicals, many which are tied to drilling and fracking. However, EPA officials stated that the geology under Pavillion is much different than the geology for other natural gas formations, so this particular study cannot be used nationally. The contamination in this area was also much shallower than in other areas of the country. Despite the evidence from the EPA study, Encana is calling it speculation. Doug Hock, an Encana spokesman, stated, “We didn’t put those compounds there, nature did.” The bottom line is the aquifer a town relies on is now contaminated, regardless of how it got that way.
The results of this study will hopefully drive change in national policy on the regulation of fracking and disclosure of chemicals. Since fracking risks contaminating drinking water supplies, proper regulation and oversight is crucial to protect the public. Full disclosure of fracking chemicals will not completely prevent contamination, but it will allow for informed decisions to be made by all parties. There are several states that currently require at least partial disclosure, and others that are working towards it. There is not, however, a federal law requiring it.