Study finds that fracking contaminated a water supply


The potential upsides and downsides of fracking technology for oil and gas keep coming.

The Energy Department found half of all U.S. continental oil production now comes from fracking, bringing enhanced energy self-sufficiency. But injecting wastewater from fracking underground has boosted the risk of earthquakes in parts of Oklahoma and Kansas to the same level as California, according to the U.S. Geology Survey.

Now, a new study focuses on alleged contamination of drinking water in one of the highest-profile, longstanding cases. The location is the small town of Pavillion, Wyoming, population 231.

In 2004, Pavillion resident Louis Meeks said the company Encana drilled for natural gas by his house. And his water changed.

“In our toilets and stuff, we get a yellowish brown stain in there, which never happened til they drilled this well up here,” Meeks said. “A lot of times you get in and take a shower and that fine mist will just clear your sinuses.”

Meeks and his wife decided to sell their sheep. “We were losing lambs because of this water,” he said. “Cows, too. And then our chickens. We have to give them bottled water, or they die.”

Controversy has long surrounded Pavillion. The Environmental Protection Agency found that fracking “likely” impacted groundwaterin a draft 2011 study, but then discontinued it and handed the study over to the state of Wyoming. The state last December found contamination “unlikely.”

This new academic study analyzes all public data on the case, including monitoring wells of the drinking water aquifer.

“We found salts, potassium and chloride that do occur naturally but were much higher than found naturally,” said co-author Rob Jackson, an earth system scientist at Stanford University. “We found things like methanol in the water. There was benzene in the water 50 times higher than the allowable levels for drinking water.”

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