There’s No Evidence Fracking Poisoned Drinking Water In Town Featured In ‘Gasland’ Films

(REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A new report by state regulators found hydraulic fracturing likely did not cause problems with drinking water in Pavillion, Wy.

The multi-year investigation by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) found the “Evidence does not indicate that hydraulic fracturing fluids have risen to shallow depths utilized by water-supply wells.”

“Also, based on an evaluation of hydraulic fracturing history, and methods used in the Pavillion Gas Field, it is unlikely that hydraulic fracturing has caused any impacts to the water-supply wells,” WDEQ investigators reported Thursday.

Complaints of a bad taste and odor in the water by Pavillion residents has been used by environmentalists as evidence fracking posed a danger to drinking water across the country. Fracking involves injecting water, sand and some chemicals deep underground to break open shale to extract oil and natural gas.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state regulators began investigating Pavillion’s water problems in 2009, and EPA issued a preliminary report in 2011 that fracking may have harmed the town’s drinking water. Activists used the report to label fracking as dangerous.

Pavillion was featured heavily in the anti-fracking film “Gasland.” The film profiled John Fenton, a rancher from Pavillion, who claims his water was contaminated by nearby fracking operations.

“When we turn on the tap, the water reeks of hydrocarbons and chemicals,” Fenton told the 2010 film’s director Josh Fox. Pavillion’s plight was aslo featurd in the “Gasland” sequel.

EPA’s 2011 report found “that compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals had been detected” in the water and that “fracking occurred below the level of the drinking water aquifer and close to water wells,” according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

Those results were highly criticized by the U.S. Geological Survey and Wyoming officials as “biased.”

USGS found one of the two water monitoring wells used by EPA near Pavillion was poorly built, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) suggested EPA’s well-water monitoring had actually introduced “bias in the samples.”

BLM said the samples “should not be prematurely used as a line of evidence that supports EPA’s suggestion that gas has migrated into the shallow subsurface due to hydraulic fracturing or improper well completion until more data is collected and analyzed.”

Wyoming DEQ officials presented findings in 2012 from its “down-hole camera” probe of EPA’s shoddy monitoring wells, which could have contaminated the agency’s well-water results.

EPA opted not to a final report in 2013, so WDEQ took over. In 2015, WDEQ released preliminary findings that gas seepage into Pavillion’s drinking water “was happening naturally before gas well development.”

Now, WDEQ has reaffirmed those results. Regulators concluded “bacteria in many of the water-supply wells suggests that this may be a cause of taste and odor issues.”

“Sustained bradenhead pressures in several gas wells provide an indication that gas and possibly liquid migration may be happening,” WDEQ found, “however, there is no evidence this migration has caused water quality issues.”

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