Archival Pigment Print on Archival Polar Pearl Metallic stock Unframed
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Back in 2011, the EPA found chemicals in Wyoming drinking water that fit the profile of fracking contamination. They were in the beginning of an investigation into the environmental impact of natural gas extraction. A little less than a year ago, the EPA said that after five years of studying Wyoming fracking, there were risks but nothing that would constitute a systematic problem for drinking water supplies.
Based on Stanford University research the EPA study was woefully incomplete and the headlines of safe drinking water was probably a mirage. Their study says underground drinking water supplies were clearly impacted by hydraulic fracturing.
Although EPA documented injection of stimulation fluids into the Pavillion Field, potential impact at the depths of stimulation as a result of this activity was not previously evaluated.
Wyoming and Pavillion specifically are a flash point in the battle to regulate and create transparency in the oil and gas industry. Pavillion has a history of possible drinking water contamination going back over two decades.
The EPA probe in Pavillion began in 2008 with the aim of determining whether the town’s water was safe to drink. The area was first drilled in 1960 and had been the site of extensive natural gas development since the 1990’s. Starting at about the same time, residents had complained of physical ailments and said their drinking water was black and tasted of chemicals.
The Stanford study exposes the fracking industry’s penchant for drilling in places they forget to tell people about.
The researchers also found that energy companies frequently fracked at much shallower depths than previously thought, sometimes very close to drinking water wells. In addition, company’s fracked into underground sources of drinking water, or USDWs, defined under federal law as aquifers that could supply a public water system. Fracking into USDWs is legal, but the oil and gas industry has long insisted that fracking occurs far deeper than where aquifers are located.
Researchers found that because of Pavillion's distinct geology, where natural gas often exists alongside water, hazardous chemicals could migrate from fracking zones along fissures into the aquifer. Faulty cement barriers around the steel casing inside an oil or gas well also create the potential for fracking chemicals to seep underground. As many as 44 unlined earthen pits were used before 1995 for disposal of diesel- and chemical-laced fluids from drilling and production. Tests of nearby groundwater showed dangerous concentrations of diesel-related and volatile organic compounds, such as benzene, a known carcinogen, and the neurotoxin toluene.
Researchers also point out that Pavillion isn’t geologically unique, which leads to fears that other American west fracking operations may have very similar contaminates leaching into their drinking waters. One of the problems it seems is that protection barriers between underground drinking wells and fracturing operations are not extensive enough to stop fracking chemicals from migrating past.
The risks to drinking water rise when fracking occurs so close to groundwater pockets, the study found. For example, cement between the casing pipes in the well and surrounding rock prevents fracking fluid, oil and gas from seeping into the earth. But cement work in Wyoming wells is relatively shallow, which means that oil and gas wells extend for hundreds of meters without a barrier between their casing and the geological formation, including water. Further, the researchers found reports of casing failures at several wells.
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