EPA finds contaminated water possibly linked to Wyoming wells

Area oil and gas industry critics are praising the Environmental Protection Agency for tests that discovered drinking water contaminants were possibly connected to drilling-related activities in Wyoming.

Among other findings, the EPA tentatively identified a substance, 2-butoxyethanol, or 2-BE, that also had been used to fracture a Silt-area well.

The Colorado well had been the subject of a state investigation concluding methane from gas development had gotten into the well.

The well’s owner at the time, Laura Amos, developed a rare adrenal cancer, a possible health effect of exposure to 2-BE.

However, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has maintained there never was evidence of fracturing fluids in her drinking water.

Both the Amos and Pavillion, Wyo., situations involve natural gas wells owned by EnCana Oil & Gas (USA).

In a letter to Pavillion residents, EnCana notes the EPA has found no specific contamination source connected to oil and gas activities.

The company says methane is naturally occurring in shallow formations in the area and that 2-BE also is commonly found in household cleaning products and is used in agricultural and other applications.

The EPA paid for the study with Superfund dollars. Theo Colborn, founder of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, a Paonia-based nonprofit that has catalogued drilling-related chemicals and their health effects, said the agency deserves credit for getting around restrictions placed on it during the Bush administration that limit its ability to look into possible drilling effects.

“Basically they were able to take the Superfund law and figure out a way to get in there and do it,” she said.

Colborn and Lisa Bracken, who lives south of Silt, said they hope the EPA will do a similar study in western Garfield County, where Bracken and other residents have raised concerns about possible drilling effects on drinking water.

In the meantime, Bracken thinks what’s learned in Wyoming might be applied locally.

“At least somewhere there has been a similar problem, and they have managed to secure jurisdiction and pursue some kind of investigation,” she said.

Luke Chavez, who is managing the EPA’s Pavillion project, said the agency eventually may conduct investigations in other locations.

For now, it’s planning more sampling to try to better assess what’s going on with the wells in Pavillion.

EnCana spokesman Doug Hock said in a prepared statement the company is committed to providing information to the EPA as requested.

“We want to better understand the science and the source of the compounds detected in area wells and will work with the community and cooperate with EPA as they continue the investigation,” he said.

Deb Thomas, organizer for the Power River Basin Resource Council and the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, said federal legislation that would force industry disclosure of fracturing substances would aid investigations such as the Wyoming one.

“It’s absolutely absurd that they don’t have to disclose that information,” she said.

Fracturing never has been conclusively linked to drinking water contamination, but supporters of the legislation say lack of disclosure makes it harder to know what substances to test for to prove a link.


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