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EPA admits water contaminated near gas-drilling sites

Posted by feww on August 29, 2009

You recall this headline: “In Dimock, Pennsylvania, drilling for natural gas has clouded the drinking water, sickened people and animals and made their wells flammable.”

The post titled Diarrhea Water revealed what some of the local folks in Dimock, who were affected by the  drilling operations for Marcellus Shale natural gas in the area, had to say.

Now, for the first time ever, EPA scientists have revealed that drinking water wells  near natural gas [and oil] drilling operations contain chemical contaminants. They found dangerous chemicals in the water from 11 of 39 wells tested near the Wyoming town of Pavillion in March and May 2009.  Unfortunately, their report  falls shy of concluding what causes the contamination, though it admits the gas drilling is a potential source.

Researchers say these chemicals may cause cancer, kidney failure, anemia and low fertility problems, and pose serious health risks to people who live close to the drilling sites, Reuters reported.

Sole Source Aquifers: ‘One Drilling Activity from Contamination’

sole source

As of March 2009, EPA has designated 77 Sole Source Aquifers nationwide. Five of these are in Region 8 (which includes Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming). EPA defines a Sole Source Aquifer as one which supplies at least 50 percent of the drinking water consumed in the area overlying the aquifer. EPA guidelines also stipulate that these areas can have no alternative drinking water source(s) which could physically, legally, and economically supply all those who depend upon the aquifer for drinking water. Sole source aquifer designation provides only limited federal protection of ground water resources which serve as drinking water supplies. It is not a comprehensive ground water protection program. Protection of ground water resources can best be achieved through an integrated and coordinated combination of federal, state, and local efforts. (Source:  EPA website.)

Gas drilling companies maintain that the gas drilling technique they use, called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is safe, but based on observation of the drinking water in numerous drilling areas, and the fate of many people who live near the drilling rigs, and who are afflicted with serious health conditions, we know that fracking contaminates groundwater with dangerous chemicals.

“Evidence of a link between gas drilling and water contamination would set back development of a clean-burning fuel promoted by the Obama administration as crucial to the future of U.S. energy production.” Reuters reported.

Wyoming the Gas State -
Wyoming the Gas [‘n Quake] State. The red stars on the map denote some of the recent earthquakes measuring up to 4.2 Mw, which are [probably!] almost entirely gas-drilling activity related. Source of original map: Google Earth. Image may be subject to copyright.

“Some experts believe the United States holds more than 100 years worth of natural gas reserves. The new findings may raise questions about the process companies such as EnCana Corp, Halliburton Co and others commonly use to pump the gas from deep geological formations. Encana, Canada’s biggest energy company, is drilling in Pavillion.”

“There may be an indication of groundwater contamination by oil and gas activities,” Reuters quoted from the 44-page report, which received little public attention when released on August 11. “Many activities in gas well drilling (and) hydraulic fracturing … involve injecting water and other fluids into the well and have the potential to create cross-contamination of aquifers.”

Contaminants found in the wells include the organic solvent2-butoyethanol (C6H14O2), or 2-BE, which is used to extract natural gas, and  “which researchers say causes the breakdown of red blood cells, leading to blood in the urine and feces, and can damage the kidneys, liver, spleen and bone marrow.”

“Greg Oberley, an EPA scientist who has been testing the water samples, said the agency did not set out to prove that hydraulic fracturing caused groundwater contamination, but was responding to complaints from local residents that their well water had become discolored or foul-smelling or tasted bad.” Reuters reported.

“While the EPA team has not determined how the chemicals got into the water, many are associated with gas drilling, Oberley said in a telephone interview.”

“The preponderance of those compounds in the area would be attributable to the oil and gas industry,” he said.

But why can’t the EPA simply ask the drillers what they put in the water?

“Drillers such as EnCana are not required to disclose the chemicals they use because of an exemption to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, granted to the oil and gas industry in 2005.” Reuters said.

The oil and gas industry deny that their operations has anything to do with the contaminants that are found in the drinking water, and insist that they use heavily diluted fracking chemicals, which are injected thousands of meters below the drinking-water table in the aquifers. They blame the contamination on other causes such as “naturally occurring,” leaking from “ordinary household products” and “organic solvents” used in agriculture.

A representative for EnCana, which operates 248 wells in the area, told reporters that the contaminants discovered by the EPA had been “tentatively identified.” He said they came from various sources, but admitted: “One of those sources could be oil and gas development.”

“John Fenton, a farmer in Pavillion, a rural community of about 150 people, said residents blame gas drilling for a range of illnesses including rare cancers, miscarriages and nervous system disorders.” Reuters reported.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, has reportedly advised people with contaminated water wells not to drink the water. Fenton said water from some of the wells was black, oily and with a petroleum-like sheen, which also smelled of gas.

“The stress is incredible,” Fenton said. “People have built their lives and businesses here. What’s it all worth now?”

Isn’t it remarkable that two distant communities, one in Dimock, Pennsylvania, and the other in Pavillion, Wyoming, some 2,668 km (1,658 miles) apart, share a common fate by way of their contaminated drinking water, where the only common denominator between them is gas-drilling activities.

[Note: EnCana Co. is North America’s largest natural gas extractor. The company extracted 1.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2008. EnCana was formed in 2002 with the merger of PanCanadian Energy and Alberta Energy Company. The corporate headquarters are in Calgary, Alberta. In the United States, EnCana operates in Colorado, Louisiana, Texas and  Wyoming. The Candian company also jointly owns two oil refineries with ConocoPhillips in Louisiana and Texas.]

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8 Responses to “EPA admits water contaminated near gas-drilling sites”

  1. Ron said

  2. W.D. said

    When it comes to gas well drilling its a good thing that most times salt water disposal wells are specifically prohibited. It would be a concern of mine that groundwater might be contaminated when saltwater waste is injected back into the ground.

  3. […] Oil Hires Top En… on ‘Diarrhea water…Big Oil Hires Top En… on EPA admits water contaminated …Big Oil Hires Top En… on NY sanity questioned as state …Cyclone ULUI Rainfal… […]

  4. […] EPA admits water contaminated near gas-drilling sites […]

  5. […] EPA admits water contaminated near gas-drilling sites […]

  6. Bill O'reilly said

    [Comment withheld awaiting additional information. Moderator.]

    • feww said

      Bubba – I’ll allow your remarks if you state [honestly] which of the following groups you belong:

      – Local Resident [NO Chance, so don’t even try]
      – Oil company executive [Highly probable]
      – A roughneck [Roughnecks Reading this blog?]
      – Ex/Govt employee

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