January 04, 2012 Articles

EPA Issues Draft Report on Well Water Contamination in Wyoming

The EPA postulates that the well water contamination might be caused, at least in part, by hydraulic fracturing.

By Robert Carlton and Liz Klingensmith – January 4, 2012

In 2008, residents of Pavillion, Wyoming, began complaining of objectionable odors and tastes in their well water. In response, the EPA launched an investigation into possible water contamination from gas drilling in the area. The EPA conducted water sampling between March 2009 and April 2011, and released a draft report of its preliminary findings on December 8, 2011. In the draft, the EPA postulates that the well water is contaminated and that such contamination might be caused, at least in part, by hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—activity. While environmentalists have hailed the draft as definitively proving that fracking causes contamination, many in the industry have criticized it as being a premature statement of poor science. The draft is now open for 45-day public comment and 30-day peer-review periods. We review the draft’s contents and then summarizes the energy industry’s response to the draft.

The EPA’s water sampling proceeded in two different parts. First, the EPA sampled shallow well water from the aquifer and collected soil samples in the areas around the pits. The EPA took its shallow samples from wells as shallow as 30 meters below the surface. Next, it tested water from deep wells screened to as deep as nearly 300 meters, focusing on two monitoring wells screened to depths of around 200 to 300 meters. In analyzing the two parts together, the draft finds that the Pavillion aquifer is contaminated and that fracking causes the contamination.

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