U.S. government scientists found chemical contaminants in Pavillion, Wyoming drinking wells that were located near natural gas drilling sites- the first time this kind of finding has been recorded. The contaminants included 2-butoyethanol and are known to cause diseases including cancer, kidney failure, anemia and fertility problems.
“The preponderance of … compounds in the area would be attributable to the oil and gas industry,” said Greg Oberly, an EPA scientist.
The EPA was responding to complaints from local residents about cloudy and foul-smelling water and their results turned up indications of a range of contaminants that could be the result of hydraulic fracturing.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” is a process energy companies use to extract natural gas. The company sends a water-sand-chemical mix 1 mile or more underground at very high pressure- this fractures the rock and causes the release of natural gas.
While there have always been concerns about the safety of “fracking,” the practice has gone largely unchecked after a 2004 EPA report said that it posed no danger to drinking water. In 2005, Natural gas drillers received an exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act- they are not even required to disclose the chemicals they use.
While there is no proven link between natural gas drilling and well contamination, other drilling sites in Wyoming have reported similar water contamination issues and local health issues.
In essence it is a battle between the U.S. energy needs and the human rights to health of the people who live on the land where natural gas is buried. The argument for natural gas as an energy source is strong, as it is “cleaner, cheaper… abundant, and ours,” says T. Boone Pickens. While it is not a renewable energy, it does reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign oil, which is a step toward energy independence. But if it does this at the cost of destroying ground water supplies, the price may be higher than it should be. While drilling companies like EnCana and Halliburton say that “fracking” is safe and that they no longer use 2-BE, a spokesman did say it was possible that drilling is the source of the chemicals.
Earlier this summer a bill was introduced to Congress requiring the disclosure of chemicals used in “fracking.” This could be a strong step in regulating the practice, but it does not address the current situation. For now, all families have been advised not to drink the contaminated water, but their future remains uncertain. As local farmer John Fenton said:
“The stress is incredible. People have built their lives and businesses here. What’s it all worth now?”