Friday, December 09, 2011

EPA Finds Fracking Fluids In Tainted Water in Wyoming

Despite claims by drillers that the shallow depth of natural gas deposits in Wyoming could explain the presence of off-smelling and tasting water in parts of the Pavillion deposit field, the EPA found that natural processes alone could not explain why chemicals used in hydrofracking (fracking) showed up in test wells.
The draft report, after a three-year study by the Environmental Protection Agency, represents a new scientific and political skirmish line over whether fracking, as it is more commonly known, poses a threat in the dozens of places around the nation where it is now being used to extract previously unreachable energy resources locked within rock.

The study, which was prompted by complaints from local residents about the smell and taste of their water, stressed that local conditions were unusual at the site, called the Pavillion field, in that the gas wells were far shallower than in many other drilling areas around the country. The shallow depth means that natural gas itself can seep upward naturally through the rock, and perhaps into aquifers.

But the suite of chemicals found in two test wells drilled at the site, the report said, could not be explained entirely by natural processes. The agency’s analysis of samples taken from deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicated the presence of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above standards in the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards, and high methane levels.

Also complicating the inquiry is the Pavillion field’s long history. The oldest wells there were drilled 40 years ago or more, and chemicals that might have been used were not required to be listed or reported to anyone.
This has repercussions for the fracking of the Marcellus field in New York, where the state DEP is examining proposed regulations on allowing fracking, and which could affect the New York City watershed. No one really knows what chemicals were used 40 years ago in the drilling processes, and while it is plausible that the chemicals found in the test wells could be the result of decades-old contaminations, it still shows that those chemicals can migrate into well water and aquifers in and around the natural gas formations.

It means that the energy companies have to do a whole lot more to protect the watershed than they are now doing, and that fracking has to be carefully so as to prevent contamination of the watershed and aquifers. So, while fracking might not leave much of a trace on the surface, the underground damage could be substantial and far more long-lasting than the energy companies are willing to admit.

It means that regulators, politicians, and local groups have to be a whole lot more careful about accepting fracking and the promises of a clean and environmentally responsible fracking process. It means that the energy companies have to be far more careful in their use of fracking fluids that can lead to irreparable harm to aquifers and the watersheds.

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