CleanTechnica is the #1 cleantech-focused
website
 in the world. Subscribe today!


Fossil Fuels EPA find fracking pollutes water in Wyoming

Published on November 13th, 2011 | by Tina Casey

41

Busted! Fracking Chemical Found in Wyoming Water Supply

Share on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookPin on PinterestDigg thisShare on TumblrBuffer this pageEmail this to someone

November 13th, 2011 by  

EPA find fracking pollutes water in WyomingThe U.S. EPA has just released test results indicating that at least one common fracking chemical has contaminated drinking water in the town of Pavillion, Wyoming. The finding is significant because the natural gas industry has long denied any systematic connection between its fracking operations and harm to water supplies, despite a growing body of anecdotal evidence. Denial has traditionally been a pretty easy call for the industry, given its exemption from chemical disclosure rules that would have definitively revealed (or disproved) any such link years ago. However, the new investigation may be only a taste of things to come, as the EPA gears up for closer scrutiny of fracking chemicals and their impacts.

Fracking and Timing

While it may be pure coincidence, the timing of EPA’s release appears to be a PR-savvy move designed to take some air out of the gas industry’s sails. On November 1, EPA issued an update on the data-gathering phase of its Hydraulic Fracturing Study report, which will attempt to get a handle on the impacts and potential risks of fracking nationwide (fracking is a drilling method that involves pumping a chemical brine underground). The final report won’t be out until 2014 but industry representatives quickly and predictably responded by accusing EPA’s methodology of being secretive and unreliable. These arguments just as quickly lost some punch just a few days later, when EPA released the results of the Pavillion investigation. That helped to focus positive attention on the agency’s credibility, through its meticulous testing and documentation of its findings.

Fracking Pollution in Pavillion, Wyoming

As reported by Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica, Pavillion is situated in a region of Wyoming that has seen hundreds of new gas wells drilled in the past 15 years, with 200 in the Pavillion area alone. Abrahm notes that residents started alleging a connection between the drilling and water contamination in their wells about ten years ago. Their complaints were partly borne out by EPA’s results, which revealed “alarming” levels of contamination in a Pavillion aquifer, including  “high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing.” However, the EPA report deals carefully with documenting the chemicals, without venturing any conclusions regarding the possible source of those chemicals.

Fracking and Earthquakes

Aside from direct water contamination, fracking can also pose a risk to water supplies through its potential for infrastructure damage. Namely,  fracking has recently been linked to earthquakes, and earthquakes are not good for reservoirs, dams, aqueducts, treatment plants and water mains. Geologists are also beginning to discover that deep-ground disruptions can have far ranging and unpredictable consequences on the surface. In what could be a portent of things to come, a small lake in Pennsylvania was recently drained because of damage to its dam caused by an underground coal mine located at what would ordinarily be considered a safe distance away.

Fracking and Tar Sands

As an aside, according to Abrahm the Pavillion gas wells at the center of the residents’ problems are currently owned by the Canadian company EnCana, which continues to deny responsibility. Their experience with EnCana certainly doesn’t bode well for residents of Nebraska and other midwestern states who may have to deal with the impacts of another Canadian energy project, TransCanada’s notorious Keystone XL Pipeline. However, that’s a moot point for now, as the State Department put a hold on the Keystone project last week, largely in response to the environmental concerns of Nebraskans.

Fracking and People

A while back, an op-ed writer for the New York Times argued that the benefits of fracking for U.S. energy policy far outweigh the risks, and the writer basically advised local residents to suck it up. That’s actually been the course of action until now, when fracking mainly took place in isolated and relatively underpopulated rural areas. Combined with the industry’s disclosure exemptions, that made it difficult if not impossible to assemble an accurate picture of the impact of fracking on a national scale. The situation is quite different now that a gas-rich formation of shale called the Marcellus has been discovered in and around the Appalachian region. EnCan may have temporarily patched Pavillion’s problems by hauling in a few cisterns for drinking water, but you’re talking about an awful lot of cisterns should problems arise in parts of the Marcellus, which for starters includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.

Image Credit: Drinking water, some rights reserved by elitatt on flickr.com.

Twitter: @TinaMCasey

Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.



Share on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookPin on PinterestDigg thisShare on TumblrBuffer this pageEmail this to someone

Tags: , , , ,


About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Pingback: USGS Finds Fracking Water Contamination in Wyoming

  • Shay

    Let me tell you a few things about our well water. When w first moved here a guy showed up wanting to sell us a watersoftener then he told us that are well water was the best water is ever seen or tasted. then the idiot decided to put oil well all around our home. since that happened my dad got severely sick my mom got sick my children got sick me and my husband got sick. my dad died from the water because it was contaminated. we sent a sample to the EPA last week and we just lost my dad Saturday.These oil companies don’t care about nobody but their self. we are going to take them to court and sue them for everything they have. it’s a crying shame my father had to died because of this. take me at my word the oil company will pay

    • http://cleantechnica.com/ Zachary Shahan

      well said. and very sorry to hear.

      unfortunately, it’s happening all over the place.

  • Pingback: Cornell Researchers Make Biofuel from Willow Shrubs

  • Pingback: BEST Climate Change Study Supports Koch Gas Fracking Investments

  • Pingback: Solar Powered Plastic Molding from LightManufacturing

  • Pingback: New Report Links Earthquakes to Carbon Sequestration

  • Deltaman
  • Pingback: Fracking Caused Ohio Earthquakes

  • Pingback: ARPA-E has $150 million in new funding for transformational energy

  • http://twitter.com/NoelJefferson Noel E. Jefferson

    Where ever fracking is taking place, there’s poison… in the water… in the air and in our food supply! What will it take to convince our politicos to reverse greed over safety? Fracking does not “reduce unemployment” because these jobs require a certain skill set that those seeking jobs lack.

  • Pingback: HyperSolar's Green Gas Could Make Fracking Obsolete

  • Pingback: Riches of Renewable Energy Revealed by New Online "RE Atlas"

  • Pingback: EPA Lowers the Boom on Fracking in Pavillion, Wyoming | CleanTechnica

  • Pingback: Vitamin B12 Could Make Fuel Cells Cheaper | CleanTechnica

  • Jordan

    Those mother frackers!!!!

  • Pingback: Fracking Chemical Found in Wyoming Water | Planetsave

  • john g

    “Hydraulic fracturing companies used 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE) as a foaming agent or
    surfactant in 126 products. According to EPA scientists, 2-BE is easily absorbed and rapidly
    distributed in humans following inhalation, ingestion, or dermal exposure. Studies have shown
    that exposure to 2-BE can cause hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells) and damage to the
    spleen, liver, and bone marrow.
    17
    The hydraulic fracturing companies injected 21.9 million
    gallons of products containing 2-BE between 2005 and 2009. They used the highest volume of
    products containing 2-BE in Texas, which accounted for more than half of the volume used.
    EPA recently found this chemical in drinking water wells tested in Pavillion, Wyoming.”
    http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Hydraulic%20Fracturing%20Report%204.18.11.pdf Is dated April 2011 so it seems they knew the results of the Pavillion study before it was released with detail this month. That comes out of the Waxman office who is the ranking member so not a big surprise. I thought he was from NY for some reason. Regardless, this smoking gun has been out for a while. I kept hearing that blanket denial right out of the the industry talking points which always bothers me on any side of an issue. I think this is one issue where the French have it right: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-04/france-to-press-ahead-with-shale-research-after-fracking-ban.html I don’t think they are in any hurry to do this in world’s premier vineyard areas. Gee, I wonder why?

  • http://www.theber.com The BER

    In Colorado we have towns with flammable drinking water caused by fracking. How long until this practice and the chemocals it uses in our groundwater are regulated? We worry incessantly about carbon emissions while the systematic poisoning of groundwater gains little attention.

    • Jim Ramsey

      The testing that has been done on those private wells shows that the methane contamination was from the the ground surrounding those wells, not from frac’ing. I agree that groundwater pollution is a serious problem, but let’s work on real problems not imagined.

      • Anonymous

        Bullsh*t Jim, I take it you work for a fracking PR company

        • Anonymous

          And you are a Pavillion resident?

  • Toby

    As someone that loves this America and the World in general. I don’t care about politics I just want the absolute truth. I hope that you are doing just that. We The people are the people and I think we all should know the absolute truth. Please! :) Thank you for your informative reporting!

  • Richard Lind

    As far as giving americans the standard of living that they deserve…don’t we deserve safe fresh water? don’t we deserve to know that if we consume a fish at the dinner table, or vegetables from a local farm, that that food is not tainted with water mixed with fracking chemicals? Don’t say it isn’t possible. I am a fisherman, and love to catch and eat striped bass. I’m told if i eat more than a pound a month, I am at risk of cancer from PCP’s, compliments of GE polluting the hudson.. BTW, that is another big corportation that manipulated the government so that they still to this day have not paid even a fraction of the cost of clean up for which they have been found legally responsible.
    We will not be manipulated again..500 years from now we ‘may’ have our hudson river back clean and usable. We do not want to wait another 1000 years for fresh water in upstate new york to recover from the greed and disregard of oil and gas company executives.
    If we need to boot out every politician in NY to prevent that, then that will happen as elections come up. Cuomo is next out of office if he is to allow gas drilling in the pristine upstate NY land.
    We CAN survive without methane….NO ONE and live without clean, fresh water…

  • Anonymous

    The conclusion that frac’ing is the cause of the contamination seems a bit premature. If contamination came for the many oil wells drilled over the past several decades, I would assume poor casing/cement jobs &/or failures of the integrity of the fresh water isolation would be the most reasonable place to start. I wonder how many unregulated water wells have been drilled by the landowners in the area? From what I know about the Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, I am a bit surprised they haven’t been involved in trying to find the source as well? Were they mentioned or consulted?

    Your article tends to ramble about the extraction of petroleum as being unsafe &/or unregulated. Oil & gas has been around for hundreds of years, it’s never been safe when mishandled or assumed inert but, when handled properly & processed & used as intended, we seem to be able to regulate our homes, move vast distances quickly & produce most things we use in our everyday lives like it’s no problem.

    As far as regulated, all states that produce petroleum have strong regulatory agencies that are understaffed & underpaid which, allows the few companies that are in it for the quick buck, can get in & out before being caught. We don’t need more regulation we just need the regulation that is in place to be imposed.

    As a society we seem to have chosen to accept the risks involved to reap the many and varied benefits from the energy economics and unique uses the many forms of petroleum provide. Once oil & gas production is effectively either shut down or priced to make alternate sources seem economic, will we be able to afford the standard of living everyone in the US thinks they deserve?

    • Richard Lind

      As far as giving americans the standard of living that tey deserve…don’t we deserve safe fresh water? don’t we deserve to know that if we consume a fish at the table, or vegetables watered on a farm by a local tributary, that that food is not tainted with water mixed with fracking chemicals? Don’t say it isn’t possible, as I am a fisherman, and love to catch and eat striped bass. I’m told if i eat mora than a pound a month, I am ar risk of cancer from PCP’s, compliments of GE polluting the hudson.. BTW, that is another big corportation that manipulated the government so that they still to this day have not paid even a fraction of the cost of clean up that they have been found responsible for in a court of law.
      We will not be manipulated again..500 years from now we ‘may’ have our hudson river back clean and usable, we do not want to wait another 1000 years for fresh water in upstate new york to recover from the greed and disregard of oil and gas company executives.
      If we need to boot out every politician in NY to prevent that,then that will happen as elections come up. Cuomo is next out if his position is to allow gas drilling in the pristine upstate NY land.
      We CAN survive without methane….NO ONE and live without clean, fresh water…

      • Anonymous

        Richard, I agree and concur with your desire for safe, fresh water. Running out of fresh water will be the end of the human race. Forcing the regulations in place to be followed AND requiring companies to be responsible for their actions is the reasonable way to proceed. The laws are there, enforcement is not apparently.

        We can survive but, will a wood burning society produce less pollutants and/or impact our environment more favorably? How do you control the temperature of your home? How do you get to work? What was used in making the fishing equipment you use?

        • Anonymous

          “We can survive but, will a wood burning society produce less pollutants and/or impact our environment more favorably? How do you control the temperature of your home? How do you get to work?”

          Please, we’re not Red State dumb here on this site.

          We know that there are perfectly viable and affordable alternatives to fossil fuels other than returning to caves and warming our bums in front of campfires.

          If you want to discuss stuff, bring legitimate issues to the table.

          • Anonymous

            Please what are the alternatives? I didn’t think I was dumb but, I get in trouble for thinking @ times, just ask my wife ;0)

          • Anonymous

            How will we heat our homes?

            1) Make them more efficient. We can greatly cut the energy needed to heat (or cool) our homes for relatively small money. It’s possible to build houses which require almost no heating even in cold climates.

            2) Heat pumps. In mild climates we’re already using air to air heat pumps which run off electricity. In cold climates we’re installing ground effect heat pumps where the much warmer temperatures of the ground below us is used rather than the colder outside air for harvesting heat. These systems are getting quite affordable compared to a oil powered system.

            How do you get to work?

            Public or personal transportation power by electricity. We have this technology up and running right now. Light rail and subways run on electricity. We’re starting to see battery-powered buses on our road. People are already commuting in EVs.

            Where will the electricity come from?

            Again – wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, tidal, biogas/mass, and probably wave. Those are the technologies we have in hand (except for wave).

            They work. They produce affordable electricity (or soon will produce affordable electricity).

            They require no fuel inputs. We won’t have to frack or purchase from other countries.

            They do not produce climate/environmental byproducts. They do not create dangers for us or for those who follow us.

            They will give us cheap electricity. Solar panels pay for themselves in a few years and then produce almost free electricity for decades. Modern wind turbines will pay for themselves in a few years and then produce almost free electricity for decades. Even if it takes 20 years to pay off panels and turbines they will have decades of very low cost performance ahead of them.

    • Anonymous

      “Once oil & gas production is effectively either shut down or priced to make alternate sources seem economic, will we be able to afford the standard of living everyone in the US thinks they deserve?”

      The Nissan Leaf uses 0.35kWh per mile. At $0.1275/kWh (national average and higher than most will pay to charge) it costs $0.04 to drive a mile.
      The average US car gets 25MPG. At $4/gallon it costs $0.17 to drive a mile.
      The purchase price of EVs will come down to, or below, that of ICEVs with manufacturing economies of scale.

      People are going to be able to drive for less than what they now spend.
      Moderate travel on public transportation will shift to high speed rail, which will be cheaper and more comfortable than flying.

      • Anonymous

        How is the electricity produced for the Leaf? I am all for high speed rail. Once the people of California get their $100B line in, I want to ride it.

        • Anonymous

          “How is the electricity produced for the Leaf?”

          Today, nationwide, about 45% from coal, 20% from natural gas, 20% with nuclear, 16% from hydro, 3% with wind. Rough numbers.

          Tomorrow, lots from wind, solar, and geothermal.

          Existing nuclear will stay around for a few more decades as long as we avoid another TMI/Chernobyl/Fukushimi. Another melt-down and I wouldn’t expect US nuclear to survive.

          Hydro will expand some as we have thousands of existing dams ripe for conversion to electricity producers and we’re starting to install run of the river generation.

          Tidal will likely start up soon. It’s working in the UK and as they develop the technology a bit more we’ll start seeing it installed here. Just think of the energy that could be harvested off the coast of Florida from the Gulf Stream and its 24/365 four knots of flow.

          Coal is on the way out. It peaked a few years back at 56%, it’s dropped to around 45%, and we’ve got several coal plants scheduled for closure over the next few years and plans to build almost no new plants.

          Natural gas is growing now, but the price of fuel is almost certain to rise
          which will push NG into a backup role behind cheaper wind and solar.

          We’ve got a grid transition ongoing and accelerating.

          Oh, since EVs will get largely charged at night they will be more and more
          charged using wind-produced electricity. Bringing EVs to the grid will
          create off-peak market for wind-electricity, increase wind farm profits,
          increase investment and accelerate turbine installation.

          In addition people who buy EVs are increasingly likely to put solar panels
          on their roofs. Lots of EV owners are going to be harvesting the
          electricity they need to charge their batteries.

          • Anonymous

            I agree with the all out approach to develop ALL forms of alternate sources of energy. I believe we should be pushing research into all of them both, private & public funding.

            Battery technology is one area I am involved in and research is on going in an attempt to improve power storage. I hope our transmission grid doesn’t end up being our weakest link. If we don’t get moving on this upgrade it will hold us back. My concern is that we will price ourselves out of being able to afford the energy we need & want before our alternates come on line at significant amount to replace fossil fuels.

    • john g

      “The conclusion that frac’ing is the cause of the contamination seems a bit premature.”
      Premature? If anything it is has taken too long to get the facts out. They were reporting the top findings of the Pavillion WY study 8 months ago in April. Now what, will there be a big smear campaign against EPA science and the US Geological Survey for having the temerity to suggest that the link between fracking and larger induced seismic activity (significant earthquakes) might not be so insignificant as the industry maintains?

      • Anonymous

        I would bet money that there will be (such a campaign).

        • john g

          That is a bet I sure would not make. Of course the EPA is an agency that needs to be “rebuilt” to quote TX Gov Perry when he could not remember the DOE:

          “No sir, no sir. We were talking about the agencies of government — the EPA needs to be rebuilt,” Perry responded. “There’s no doubt about that.”

          Which is interesting since everything he says is a talking point. What there is no doubt about is Perry & co. want to rebuild it to give research results that agree with science the way they want it or to do away with any restrictions whatsoever. That should really just be “& co” because Perry himself has no understanding of science and just believes whatever he is told. Does anybody really believe that idiot could give even a weak high school level talk about anything to do with science? With economics? He was the one who also said re. climate change: “Well I do agree that the science is not settled on this. The idea that we would put America’s economy at jeopardy based on … science that’s not settled yet. … Galileo got outvoted for a spell.” Then to add to the ignorant mendacity they had him pretend he was “joshing” or some other unspeakable effiing nonsense. I hate to use the vernacular unless it is absolutely required. Oh, but it is not important that he is an idiot, just look at how well the TX economy is doing, how many JOBS they created. I would rather live in a tar paper shack and eat roots than be that stupid, not to mention corrupt, and I don’t think I am alone in that conclusion.

        • john g

          Rather than bet we can see who has better ESP. I foresee that d 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE) will get a PR job cast in the role of a common and harmless household chemical in everything we use. The big scientific name makes it sound scary to you simpletons. Silicon Dixoide, sand as we call it here at Dow chemical. Without chemicals life itself would be impossible. That strategy dates as far back as napalm. Fire jelly we like to call it here at Dow. You see, almost all the chemicals used in things like fracking and oil drilling are harmless, like salt water for example. Sodium Chloride Di Hydrogen Oxide, then fade to some happy family on the beach-make them a black family too not to take any chances.

      • Anonymous

        It’s pretty easy to determine what is in a cup of water. I do not imagine anyone could reasonable question the lab results the EPA used. As they have found the chemical, they now need to try to find out where it came from. I think I understood that the water has been contaminated for quite some time….or is that incorrect?

        I’m not sure they would be able to prove the pollutant came from a specific frac job & I would be surprised if a recent frac would already have reached the faucet UNLESS they had poor steel & cement isolation of the fresh water interval in the well that was frac’d AND, if that is the case, they have not only violated the law but, probably have damaged the longevity of their well. If we want to start with the facts, they certainly could find a leak in the casing of the 100’s of existing wells that are in the immediate area and address those wells first.

        As a side note, MANY of the industries operating companies are now testing the surrounding water wells before they even begin building the location. Then tagging the fluids used to drill & complete the well, including the frac fluid with inert chemicals that can be detected and then, periodically testing the same water wells as their operations proceed. Many others do at least the water well testing before they begin operations to provide an actual baseline. This would seem to be a reasonable addition to state regs in an attempt to determine cause & effect as we move away from fossil fuels..

        • A Melcher

          !. If there is strong evidence that water well(s) contain fracking chemicals, what is the next step required by law or regulation? Shut down the oil/gas well/ Drill a new water well for users?
          2 Earthquakes: in the mid-1960’s warfare gases at Rocky Mountain Arsenal,Denver, were being disposed of by deep underground injection (25,000 feet deep, high pressure.) Earthquakes occurred. A USGS geologist, David Evans, became convinced that the fluids were lubricating slip planes in the formations, resulting in earthquakes. Authorities halted the injections and the earthquakes stopped.

          • Anonymous

            IF confirmed. ALL active producers & injection wells that have drilled below the fresh water formation should be tested to determine if they have sufficient isolation of the fresh water aquifer from the wellbore. If not, they either need to be fixed, which can be done in MOST cases, or PROPERLY plugged and abandoned..allowing the owner of the well the right to replace the plugged well with a PROPERLY completed new replacement.

            As far as the contaminated water, drilling another well would only be putting another “straw in the glass” and would help only IF high volume pumps were installed & water was removed until the contaminates were washed out of the mix.

            A commitment to supply fresh water for as long as it takes to get back to fresh well water should be imposed on any operator(s) that have knowing allowed their well to operate when the wellbore integrity was known to be a problem (this too is determinable, in many cases) or, kick in some predetermined percentage if it’s found they currently have a leaking well. If this occurred, it would not surprise me to see well integrity on top of all drillers and producers check list as it is with MOST of the oil & gas operators in this country.

Back to Top ↑