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EPA Study: Benzene at Fifty Times Safe Limit in Drinking Water Wells in Pavillion, WY; Multiple Fracking Chemicals

November 20, 2011

With fracking news flying fast and furious, this stunning story got almost overlooked. In “EPA Finds Fracking Chemical in Wyoming Gas Drilling Town’s Aquifer,” Abrahm Lustgarten reports on water wells confirmed by the EPA to contain phenols — a dangerous human carcinogen — and acetone, toluene, naphthalene, traces of diesel fuel, and benzene at fifty times the limit considered safe for humans — after fracking by EnCana. Despite Lustgarten’s cautious headline, which refers to the deadly fracking chemical 2-butoxyethanol, this disturbing report is about much more than just one chemical. It’s about an aquifer destroyed, a people endangered, and an EPA report withheld month after month because the state of Wyoming didn’t want the bad PR.

Below are a few excerpts from the article by Lustgarten, published by Inside Climate News on November 13th, 2011, beginning with the painfully familiar story of industry denial while people suffer:

The Pavillion area has been drilled extensively for natural gas over the last two decades and is home to hundreds of gas wells. Residents have alleged for nearly a decade that the drilling—and hydraulic fracturing in particular—has caused their water to turn black and smell like gasoline. Some residents say they suffer neurological impairment, loss of smell, and nerve pain they associate with exposure to pollutants.

The gas industry—led by the Canadian company EnCana, which owns the wells in Pavillion—has denied that its activities are responsible for the contamination. EnCana has, however, supplied drinking water to residents.

Although cautious, the EPA report admits it found no possible cause other than drilling and fracking for natural gas to explain the presence of a multitude of toxic contaminants:

…the chemical compounds the EPA detected are consistent with those produced from drilling processes, including one—a solvent called 2-Butoxyethanol (2-BE)—widely used in the process of hydraulic fracturing. The agency said it had not found contaminants such as nitrates and fertilizers that would have signaled that agricultural activities were to blame.

The wells also contained benzene at 50 times the level that is considered safe for people, as well as phenols—another dangerous human carcinogen—acetone, toluene, naphthalene and traces of diesel fuel.

Despite the thick brick wall of denial and the everlasting cries of injured innocence from the industry, this EPA report found the same water saturated with fracking chemicals to be also saturated with methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas, which could only come from the deep layers drilled and fracked — despite industry’s attempt to claim otherwise:

The EPA said the water samples were saturated with methane gas that matched the deep layers of natural gas being drilled for energy. The gas did not match the shallower methane that the gas industry says is naturally occurring in water, a signal that the contamination was related to drilling and was less likely to have come from drilling waste spilled above ground.

Please read the full story here.

The people of Pavillion had to wait ten years to get the EPA this involved. The EPA had to wait close to a year before being allowed to release their report. We may have to wait a decade or more before similar studies begin confirming the poisons we already know are in Pennsylvania water and air. But it matters that these painful realities are no longer hidden.

Stacey Haney’s and Beth Voyles’ families, badly impacted by gas drilling in southwestern PA, are finally reported about in today’s Sunday New York Times Magazine, “The Fracturing of Pennsylvania,” here.

It won’t be much longer that Pennsylvania’s Governor Corbett — or any elected official or industry representative anywhere — gets away with claiming, “I’m not aware of any health problems associated with gas drilling….”

One Comment
  1. November 21, 2011 7:40 am

    where are the lawsuits? unfortunately, that may be what we need to stop this horror.

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