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Toxic gases found in well water close to drilling sites

A gasometer stands half-full of natural gas

TEXT OF STORY

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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