The national debate over gas drilling practices grew more intense last week with the news that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that drinking water in a Wyoming town was likely polluted by a gas producer's operations, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
The findings, which will be peer-reviewed by scientists before being made final, could expose Encana, the gas producer, to fines and litigation, according to the Journal. The company has been providing fresh water to 21 homes in the Pavillion, Wyo., area since August 2010, when it began meeting with the EPA and state regulators to find a long-term alternative to well water for the area.
The Journal reported that environmental groups said the finding confirms that gas drilling poses environmental risk and should be subject to strict rules or banned outright.
The EPA conducted a multiyear study in response to concerns voiced in 2008 by residents in Pavillion about the smell and quality of their water. The agency, after drilling its own wells in Pavillion and sampling water, said it detected benzene, a carcinogen, that exceeded safe drinking-water standards, as well as methane - the primary component of natural gas - and synthetic chemicals such as glycols and alcohols "consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids."
The EPA said that in one well it drilled it measured 246 micrograms of benzene per liter, far above the maximum permitted level of five micrograms per liter. The EPA said it looked at other explanations for the contaminants but concluded gas drilling was "likely" to blame, the Journal reported.
The report cited problems with how the wells were constructed, including intervals where the wells had no cement casing or weakened cement, according to the Journal. EPA officials said this could be related to the age of the wells, some of which date to the 1950s, and varying state regulations over the years.
To read the Wall Street Journal story, click here.
To read a New York Times story on the gas-related water pollution, click here.
To read a related story on TheHill.com, click here.