Toxic gases found in well water close to drilling sites

A gasometer stands half-full of natural gas


Kai Ryssdal:Let me take you now to Pavillion, Wyo., population 150. It's a farming town out in the middle of the prairie. Couple hundred miles from Yellowstone National Park. The EPA has just given the good people of Pavillion not to drink their water. The feds have found methane and other yucky stuff in local wells. They're trying to figure out whether some nearby drilling for natural gas might be the culprit.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Scott Tong reports.

Scott Tong: Wyoming is one of more than 30 states abundant in natural gas. It's also where the EPA just found benzene, a carcinogen, and the natural gas methane in local water wells.

Pavillion hay farmer John Fenton attended a local EPA meeting yesterday. He says regulators gave this advice:

John Fenton: We are to find an alternate source of drinking and cooking water.

And residents should be...

Fenton: Ventilating the bathrooms, the laundry room, anywhere where methane might collect and might create an explosion problem.

Fenton says his well water was doing just fine, 'til it started bubbling and smelling like propane last year. Similar tales have popped up around the country, often near drilling sites.

The type of drilling, called "fracking," shoots water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth. But so far, the EPA says it doesn't know if fracking has caused the water problems and is still investigating. For its part, industry says there are rules require wells to be lined with cement.

John Robitaille at the Petroleum Association of Wyoming says the aim is to prevent any leakage.

John Robitaille: There are safeguards in place that do not allow for that type of thing to happen when we drill an oil and gas well.

Still, it's a heated fight over a kind of drilling considered a game-changer in the energy sector. State and federal regulators could make it tougher to issue new drilling permits.

Analyst Kevin Book at Clearview Energy Partners says authorities in the Delaware River Basin will soon issue their restrictions.

Kevin Book: It's going to stagger a lot of investors. It's going to be very restrictive governing shale gas production in that watershed. Meanwhile, the federal government is watching from not very far away.

In the congressional hopper is a bill requiring oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they shoot underground.

In Washington, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.
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I agree with all of the above, the water contamination issue is crucial and must be addressed. And, what about the water USE issue? Millions of gallons of water are used in the process. Water rights and water supply wars have already begun around the world (remember the battle between Georgia and Alabama during the drought of 2008?) Where will the gas companies fall in the access to water priority WHEN the next drought hits? Another aspect is the toxic waste that is produced in the drilling process. It is so toxic, it has to be stored in above ground tanks. Who is holding the shale gas drillers accountable for a responsible waste disposal plan??? Future generations are counting on us to ask the tough questions and get satisfactory answers before we let this get out of hand. What will we say to them if we let this continue so that a handful of people/companies can profit at the expense of current and future generations? Who/What gives them that right?

This hydro-fracking process, allowed under a special provision inserted into a 2005 George W. Bush energy bill by VP Dick Cheney, is a disaster for the very farmers and land owners who gave permission for the wells. To say nothing of the people whose water has been poisoned. See Josh Fox's HBO documentary "Gasland" for the story. It's a nightmare waiting to happen across the country if not stopped. And very few people in the areas to be affected know about it!

Folks -

Want to urge your Congressional representatives to close drilling loopholes?

For example, under current law drillers can hide the toxics they inject through the water table. And some drilling are exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Keep our drinking water clean and safe: send a letter to Congress at http://frackaction.earthworksaction.org

You can also learn more about the issue at our website -- http://fracking.earthworksaction.org

Alan Septoff

Greetings from Pennsylvania! Known for some of the best tap water in the country. The Natural Gas industry has invaded to begin hydrofracking the Marcellus shale area. The industry has set aside million$ to hire famous lobbyists and begin a TV propaganda program.
It is not IF, but WHEN the hydrofracking will poison the water supply in Pennsylvania.

Well... hmmm... the well is lined... yes.. but the Fracing is out in the formation... not in the well... sort of a "disregard the man behind the curtin".

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