The Entire Oil And Gas Industry Is Watching A Tiny Town In Wyoming

A fracking well in Pennsylvania.

By Rob Wile of Business Insider:

Most scientists have long maintained it was highly unlikely that chemicals  pumped into the ground for fracking gas could move all the way up through  bedrock and into the water table.

But that appears to be exactly what has happened underneath Pavilion,  Wyoming, population 213.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced  new USGS test results were consistent with its December tests that fracking  likely contaminated groundwater there.

Duke University Professor Rob Jackson has studied the effects of fracking in  Pennsylvania and (when they were still active) New York.

He’s also been closely following the Pavilion study.

“The industry likes to say there’s never been a case of fracking  contaminating groundwater,” he told us by phone. “What made the EPA  report so controversial is that they concluded that’s what  happened.”

In December, the EPA concluded  the following about Pavilion’s water table:

EPA’s analysis of samples taken from the  Agency’s deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicates detection  of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and  alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic  fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act  standards and high methane levels.

A Different Case in Pennsylvania

Yesterday, the EPA found  methane had leaked into a watertable in Dimock, Pennsylvania where drillers are  tapping the Marcellus shale.

But those results are less disturbing than Pavillion, Jackson said.  The  contamination in Dimock was most likely because of a crack in a pipe,  something relatively easy to address.

And the drilling that occurs in the Marcellus takes place thousands of feet  below aquifers — unlike the situation potentially unfolding in Pavillion, where  the drilling, which was performed by the company Encana, reaches less than 1,000  feet below the surface.

If it’s moved up into the rock, that’s a harder problem  to fix than a poorly constructed pipe,” Jackson said.

Doug Hock, a spokesman for Encana, said in an email there was  nothing surprising in the USGS’ results.

More important is the fact that USGS only sampled  one of the two monitoring wells. This goes to the heart of concerns raised by  state and federal agencies, as well as Encana—EPA’s wells are improperly  constructed. Specifically, the report seems to indicate that USGS declined to  sample MW02 because the well could not provide a sample that was representative  of actual water quality conditions.

The EPA has not announced when it will finalize its conclusions for Pavillion — the agency is still accepting public comments on its findings from  December.

Jackson believes whatever the outcome, fracking will be here to stay.

But the results will significantly raise the stakes regardless.

“It will still be controversial,” he said. “The take home message  in Pavillion is, don’t frack a well so close to the surface.”