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FIRST TIME: (US) EPA Finds Fracking Contaminated Drinking Water (in Wyoming)

By: David Dayen Friday December 9, 2011 9:08 am

For the first time, (US) government scientists concluded that hydraulic fracturing, the process of shooting massive quantities of water and chemicals into rock to release natural gas, contaminates drinking water. The study concerns an incident in Pavillion, Wyoming, and culminates three years of research of the local aquifer.

EPA constructed two deep monitoring wells to sample water in the aquifer. The draft report indicates that ground water in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing. EPA also re-tested private and public drinking water wells in the community. The samples were consistent with chemicals identified in earlier EPA results released in 2010 and are generally below established health and safety standards. To ensure a transparent and rigorous analysis, EPA is releasing these findings for public comment and will submit them to an independent scientific review panel. The draft findings announced today are specific to Pavillion, where the fracturing is taking place in and below the drinking water aquifer and in close proximity to drinking water wells – production conditions different from those in many other areas of the country.

Independent reports have previously shown contaminants in water due to fracking, but this is the first time the EPA has come out and said so. And while they cite Pavillion as a special case, it calls into question the surge in fracking across the country. From the Marcellus Shale to the Rocky Mountains, thousands of natural gas drilling sites have sprung up, and questions about air and water quality have persisted. Multiple examples of residents lighting the water out of their faucets on fire, and incidents of sickness in areas around the natural gas wells (many of which are in the backyards of people paid handsomely by the fracking companies for the privilege), abound.

Jim Martin, the EPA’s regional administrator in Denver, said in a statement, “EPA’s highest priority remains ensuring that Pavillion residents have access to safe drinking water. We will continue to work cooperatively with the State, Tribes, Encana (the gas company that did the fracking) and the community to secure long-term drinking water solutions. We look forward to having these findings in the draft report informed by a transparent and public review process. In consultation with the Tribes, EPA will also work with the State on additional investigation of the Pavillion field.”

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