EPA: Pavillion, Wyoming natural gas site tests consistent with earlier data
BY TENNILLE TRACY
WASHINGTON -- New tests of water surrounding natural gas drilling sites near Pavillion, Wyoming, have turned up results that are "generally consistent" with earlier finds showing a link between contamination and hydraulic fracturing, the EPA said.
The EPA's announcement could be a blow to natural gas company Encana, which operates the Pavillion gas field and has routinely denied any link between compounds found in EPA's two monitoring wells and its natural gas drilling.
Encana says EPA drilled its wells into a gas zone, which explains the presence of hydrocarbons. The company also says EPA has drawn improper conclusions from its data.
EPA has provided no sound scientific evidence that drilling has impacted domestic drinking water wells in the area, Encana spokesman Doug Hock said.
More broadly, the EPA tests fuel concerns about hydraulic fracturing and the risk it potentially poses to groundwater supplies. EPA has stressed, however, that Pavillion is unique and any evidence of contamination there shouldn't be used as an indictment of hydraulic fracturing everywhere.
The EPA also said it would accept comments on its draft findings until January, extending a deadline that was slated to expire in October.
Hydraulic fracturing involves a high pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals injected underground to break open seams in the earth and unlock natural gas supplies. So called fracking paved the way for a boom of United States natural gas production, but opponents say the drilling method contaminates groundwater and allows greenhouse gases to escape into the atmosphere.
Encana and others in the natural gas industry say the method is safe if conducted properly. The definitive word on the issue should be coming from EPA, which is doing a years-long analysis of the risks.
Pavillion has become one of the most closely watched natural gas sites in the country. EPA started to monitor the area after residents complained about the smell and taste of the water. Late last year, the EPA made headlines when it said synthetic compounds in its monitoring wells appeared to be linked to natural gas production.
It was one of the only times if not the only time that a federal agency said it had evidence of contamination.
The EPA and the United States Geological Survey conducted another round of testing this year after Encana and some energy experts criticized the agency's work. The USGS released its test results. Although EPA said those results were also "generally consistent" with its original analysis, Encana has pointed out several differences.
EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said the agency's new data and the USGS data are both "generally consistent" with the monitoring data the agency released last year.
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