EPA reports first findings of water pollution from fracing in WY; industry reacts

December 2011, Vol. 238 No. 12

A report released by the EPA Dec. 8 and labeled “DRAFT” in large type finds that “[e]levated levels of dissolved methane in domestic wells generally increase in those wells in proximity to gas production wells.” The report is the product of an investigation taking place between March 2009 and April 2011 in the area of Pavillion, WY, and sampling from domestic and EPA-drilled wells at several points during that period.

Titled “Investigation of Ground Contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming,” the draft has resulted in questions about its methodology and its findings in hot circulation among industry groups. The main objection is that the contamination found in the Pavillion wells came from the EPA’s custom-drilled and deeper test wells, and not residential drinking water.

According to the EPA report, the deeper wells were drilled in response to “elevated levels of methane and diesel range organics (DRO) in deep domestic wells” to “better evaluate to deeper sources of contamination.”

Energy in Depth, an industry-funded outreach site, collects a number of complaints. EID’s Chris Tucker points out that the extent of the contamination, whatever its source, may not be as dramatic as some reports suggest. “After several rounds of EPA testing of domestic drinking water wells in town, only one organic compound (bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) was found to exceed state or federal drinking water standards – an additive in plastics and one of the most commonly detected organic compounds in water. According to EPA: ‘Detections in drinking water wells are generally below established health and safety standards.'”

The findings on shallow-water quality in the area are also causing controversy. Shallow residential wells near pits were thought to have been possibly contaminated by groundwater, which was in turn contaminated by the pits: “When considered separately, pits represent potential source terms for localized ground water plumes of unknown extent. When considered as [a] whole they represent potential broader contamination of shallow ground water.” To this, Tucker points out that the pits are “legacy” and already in a voluntary reclamation program sponsored by the state, and not related to the fracing issue.

Read the full draft of the EPA report (abstract pages 13-15)
Read the full text reacting to the report at EID: http://www.energyindepth.org/six-questions-for-epa-on-pavillion/