ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Cancel

Feds Warn Residents Near Wyoming Gas Drilling Sites Not to Drink Their Water

The federal government is warning residents in a small Wyoming town with extensive natural gas development not to drink their water, and to use fans and ventilation when showering or washing clothes in order to avoid the risk of an explosion.

.

Drilling rigs in Wyoming. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

The federal government is warning residents in a small Wyoming town with extensive natural gas development not to drink their water, and to use fans and ventilation when showering or washing clothes in order to avoid the risk of an explosion.

The announcement accompanied results from a second round of testing and analysis in the town of Pavillion by Superfund investigators for the Environmental Protection Agency. Researchers found benzene, metals, naphthalene, phenols and methane in wells and in groundwater. They also confirmed the presence of other compounds that they had tentatively identified last summer and that may be linked to drilling activities.

"Last week it became clear to us that the information that we had gathered" "was going to potentially result in a hazard -- result in a recommendation to some of you that you not continue to drink your water," Martin Hestmark, deputy assistant regional administrator for ecosystems protection and remediation with the EPA in Denver, told a crowd of about 100 gathered at a community center in Pavillion Tuesday night. "We understand the gravity of that."

Representatives of the EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which made the health recommendation, said they had not determined the cause of the contamination and said it was too early to tell whether gas drilling was to blame. In addition to contaminants related to oil and gas, the agency detected pesticides in some wells, and significant levels of nitrates in one sample -- signs that agricultural pollution could be partly to blame. The EPA's final report on Pavillion's water is expected early next year.

ProPublica first drew attention to Pavillion's water in late 2008, and reported extensively on the EPA's ongoing investigation there last August.

EnCana, the oil and gas company that owns most of the wells near Pavillion, has agreed to contribute to the cost of supplying residents with drinking water, even though the company has not accepted responsibility for the contamination.

EnCana spokesman Doug Hock told ProPublica in an e-mail that the petroleum hydrocarbon compounds the EPA found "covers an extremely wide spectrum of chemicals, many of which aren't associated with oil and gas."

"ATSDR's suggestion to landowners was based upon high levels of inorganics -- sodium and sulfate that are naturally occurring in the area," he said.

EPA scientists began investigating Pavillion's water in 2008 after residents complained about foul smells, illness and discolored water, and after state agencies declined to investigate. Last August the EPA found contaminants in a quarter of samples taken during the first stage of its investigation, and the agency announced it would continue with another round of samples -- the set being disclosed now.

In the meeting Tuesday, the agency shared results from tests of 23 wells, 19 of which supply drinking water to residents. It found low levels of hydrocarbon compounds -- various substances that make up oil -- in 89 percent of the drinking water wells it tested. Methane gas was detected in seven of the wells and was determined to have come from the gas reservoir being tapped for energy. Eleven of the wells contained low levels of the compound 2-butoxyethanol phosphate -- a compound associated with drilling processes but that is also used as a fire retardant and a plasticizer.

The scientists also found extremely high levels of benzene, a carcinogen, and other compounds in groundwater samples taken near old drilling disposal pits. Some of the samples were taken less than 200 yards from drinking water sources and scientists expressed concerns that the contaminated water was connected to drinking water wells by an underground aquifer.

"The groundwater associated with some inactive oil and gas production pits" "is in fact highly contaminated," Ayn Schmit, a scientist with the EPA's ecosystems protection program, told residents. But she also cautioned that the EPA has not determined the cause of the contamination and is continuing its investigation.

Kilgour Farms

Sep. 1, 2010, 5:27 p.m.

Sounds like someone spilled diesel fuel. They did say this was farm land didn’t they.  I wonder if one of the farmers had a spill in the area at one time?

Once again jumping to conclusion before all the facts are known. How many times have I seen this from PP and their supporters.

Maybe a better headline would be diesel fuel possible cause of well contamination. It fits.

Gosh, It’s not that far from Jackson Hole, Wyoming perhaps the big money can stop by while they are in the area.  Does anyone remember the scene from Erin Brokovich when she served the Pacific Gas and Electric executives that polluted water from Hinkley.  Do you reckon we could serve Dick Cheney the soup his fracking allowances have pumped into the earth? Well ok thats a bit harsh, lets just serve him the effects of his policy.

KBL CONSTRUCTION

Sep. 1, 2010, 6:50 p.m.

How many well sites are within 1 mile of Kilgour Farms?  And how much do you make off of them?  Here in Western Colorado, we have 3 within 1/2 mile of us.  One of the wells has known H2S gas. 

They fraced all 3 of the wells, and we are ill.  Not enough people pay attention to what is going on in their own environments.

Mr. and/or Mrs. Kilgour Farms, we invite you to come and spend 1 month with us.  Breath our air and drink our well water.  We look forward to it.

This same problem happened back in the late 70’s early 80’s with drilling for gas in TX.  Wells and drinking water fouled.  Women having miscarriages (3 in 4 months on same well). I find it soooo funny that folks are treating this like its a new problem.

Kilgour Farms

Sep. 1, 2010, 7:59 p.m.

To late many of us already have methane and sulfur in our water have had it longer then anyone can remember and there isn’t a gas well for 30 miles. Methane was recorded in area waters as early as 1884.

The ingredients the EPA is reporting is very close chemically to known diesel fuel formulations. Check the MSDS sheets

Kilgour Farms

Sep. 1, 2010, 8:09 p.m.

I should also add that some of the neighbors can also light faucets, pretty neat trick for those who don’t know about it.

Watch the documentary, “Gasland.”  It will explain all you need to know.  This is a huge problem that has been ignored, while people are getting sick.  Check it out here:  http://gaslandthemovie.com/

What I did back in the day was turn off the Christmas tree—randomly.  Gave the driller fits.  Nowadays, alls ya prolly gotta do is bust the solar thingy or cut the wires.

You HAVE TO UNDERSTAND—THE DRILLERS AND OIL COMPANIES DO NOT GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THE HEALTH AND WELFARE OF THE RESIDENTS.  KINDA LIKE BP IN THE GULL OF MEXICO.

KBL CONSTRUCTION

Sep. 1, 2010, 8:44 p.m.

I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT SULFUR OR METHANE.  I’M TALKING ABOUT H2S GAS, WHICH CAN KILL YOU IN A MATTER OF MINUTES.  CHECK YOUR MSDS SHEETS.

Watch the movie GASLAND.
This stuff is happening wherever the fracking method is being used.

I still recommend turning off the tree.  It’s like twelve turns to the right (righty tighty lefty loosey).

You wanna drive the drillers insane in another way—pull up ALL the surveyor’s tapes and stakes.  So funny when they gotta get the surveyors back out. Which is when you pull all that stuff again.  Rig comes in and they have no clue where to drill.

Kilgour Farms

Sep. 1, 2010, 9:10 p.m.

The EPA report didn’t mention H2S in the wells just sulfate..

The tree makes a darn good target for sighting in a varmit gun.  My personal favorite is the SKS 7.62x49.  It can poke holes thru most of the iron from a few hundred yards away.

Kilgour,

I don’t see any jumping to conclusions: “...she also cautioned that the EPA has not determined the cause of the contamination and is continuing its investigation”.  You, however, already know it’s a diesel spill.

Might you have some money riding on the outcome of these EPA studies?  How dare they try to protect our water supply!!!

Bent Franklin

Sep. 2, 2010, 8:45 a.m.

Diesel fuel does not contain phenols or methane.

If we want to remove the uncertainty about whether there are toxics in groundwater in drilling-affected areas, AND know whether those toxics come from drilling, we need to close the loopholes that let drillers drill irresponsibly.

Urge your Congressional representatives to support the FRAC Act—and close these loopholes—at http://frackaction.earthworksaction.org

Requiring drillers to behave themselves is not the same thing as requiring drillers to stop drilling.

Robert Lombardo

Sep. 2, 2010, 1:12 p.m.

I fully expect the obvious to be obscured and the unlikely to be blamed.  (small diesel spill)
Just like Joe the plumber is really intelligent and Al Gore is dumb.
Let’s not jump to obvious conclusions let’s wait until all our children are sick and dying then we can start a 40 year legal battle in which all the claimants are dead.  In general it is hard to prove anything when there a so many unknowns about specifics and timelines, but a reasonable person could say, “yep, they put the stuff in the ground with water and high pressure and it likely did not stay in one place.
The poor will drink the water for decades to come and the rich will move somewhere they did not profit off the destruction of.

go ahead…blame the farmers for the nitrates.  nobody will blink, everybody knows farmers fertilize with ammonium nitrate.  but, am i seriously hearing people blaming the presence of toxic chemicals like benzene, naphthalene, and fire retardants in groundwater on the FARMERS, too?...because everybody knows these chemicals are widely used in agriculture, and farmers regularly go around dumping diesel fuel on their fields to help the veggies grow.

A google search for Kilgour Farms quickly provides a list of websites where “Kilgour Farms” spams the internets with positive information (likely propaganda) on natural gas drilling.  Impossible to tell if this is a paid shill but certainly not out of the question since this is a known tactic used by energy companies.

How does someone spill diesel and get a vast area of ground water to still need ventilation to avoid explosion?

Sounds a lot more systematic and widespread than a single point-source of a spill.

The best part is that the companies doing the fracking don’t need to release the chemicals they are using. I guess, if you were a cynic, you might say they are using fracking as an opportunity to dispose of chemicals that would require lots of money to dispose of in specially constructed landfills. Also, I’m sure nothing used by the oil companies runs on diesel, and the spill must have been the fault of the farmers…

@TJ wow, interesting find, I wouldn’t have thought of suspecting a troll

Kilgour Farms

Sep. 2, 2010, 3:42 p.m.

I’m no industry man or shrill, I trust the gascos about as much as I trust the antie crowd. Positive information?? I provide factual information.

I do my own research and have found both side to be equally deceptive with information.

Did some additional research and found that there were several areas the EPA is looking at that were drilled by Shell and others in 1955, 1965 and 1973 with no records available for source cotamination.

I do see mentioned the use of unlined pits at the time and the contamination could have come from these pits. I still stand by my assurtion that diesel fuel seems to be the main culprit in the contamination.

I don’t see that the EPA indicated that the hydraulic fracturing process was responsible for the contamination. Seems they are concentrating on the old pits.

Learn or not, your choice.

Aeph,  interesting name?  But, your comment does seem to have merit. Could very well be that the drilling is disposing of Chemical Wastes, as they won’t disclose what the fluid consists of, secret ingredients, they say. Proprietary, I believe is the phrase they use. Say, perhaps that’s the reason that old man Simpson keeps babbling off the wall insults to people, he’s lost his marbles.

And the frac’ors keep posting as though the commoners are stupid. Common sense reigns.

@Kilgour Farms:  The false equivalency—“both sides lie”—is a total cop-out.

Right now, drillers don’t have to publicly report the toxics they use, and (among other regulatory gaps) they aren’t required to do adequate (or any) baseline monitoring to test water quality before drilling begins. 

So we’re in the dark.  And the drilling industry is fighting to keep it that way.

What we do know is that there’s 40 years of anecdotal evidence pairing drilling to polluted drinking water.

And only after the kind of spotlight that’s now being shined on Pavillion does the drilling industry promise to do the bare minimum (compensate for loss of drinking water).  For example, until recently (and maybe still), Encana was harassing Pavillion-area landowners with polluted water, not helping them.

We will see if “Yesterday” is as proud of himself when the investigators read his comments and come knocking on his door the next time there is oil/gas well or mining vandalism or dustruction of property.

Shelly Thomas

Sep. 2, 2010, 4:17 p.m.

Thanks to T. Boone Pickens and his “Army” of natural gas fans, this will happen more and more around the country. He has already infiltrated Congress.

Not that it’s relevant, but the picture of the Nabors drilling rigs was taken more than 150 miles from Pavillion.  I live 20 miles from P-Ville, as we call it.  One issue that I have not heard discussed is that the gas wells are fracked at around 10,000 feet deep (where the Nabors rigs are, it averages 13,850 feet deep) .  How does that contaminate water at 500 feet?

Sharon Wilson

Sep. 2, 2010, 5:04 p.m.

Who cares if the contamination was caused by the drilling or the fracking or the pits? The bottom line is as Abrahm once wrote: Drill for gas, pollute water.

But it’s OK to use it for the livestock then ship those critters across state lines for butchering

I would say to all to check closely where the beef or chicken you’re eating is coming from…  The United States is very rapidly becoming the Banana Republic of the world.  It is already it’s Bully and Dumb S**t,  and with the very rich ripping off the commons and making sure that those in the middle and lower classes are uneducated, insuring their place at the very point of the food chain….

Damn!  I am glad I’m no longer one of you!

@Kilgour Farms, you are not a paid shill for the industry.  But you are a landowner actively engaged in a campaign to get approval from the required regulatory authorities to permit gas drilling in that region.  This would allow you to lease your land for drilling.  So you do have a financial interest that you are not disclosing to others in your comments.

Since when are benzene, naphthalene, phenols and methane part of diesel fuel?

Big G & O should pay for independent water
testing for anyone near their acctivities, that
doubt their water safety.

KBL Construction

Sep. 2, 2010, 6:48 p.m.

Let’s find Kilgour Farms and dump all the NON-TOXIC Fracking material from the drill sites at their place.

Water: Although there are no drinking water
standards for fuel oil, there are standards for
some of its ingredients. “Aromatic” compounds
make up about 35% of fuel oil, such as benzene,
toluene, and xylene.The standard for benzene is
5 parts per billion (ppb), toluene is 1 part per
million (ppm), and xylene is 10 ppm. We
suggest you stop drinking or cooking with water
containing these chemicals at levels higher than
the standard, or if you smell a kerosene odor or
see a oily sheen. If levels are very high, you
should avoid washing, bathing, or using the
water for other purposes.

Analytical Strategies
Chemical fingerprinting data must provide sufficient specificity to recognize the particular types of petroleum present at a site, characterize the effects of weathering on their chemical composition, and provide the diagnostic information necessary to distinguish and perhaps allocate between multiple sources of petroleum and assess their likely ages. For this reason, a “turnkey” analytical program that utilizes standard, regulatory methods for chemical analysis (e.g., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Methods 8015, 8020, 8260 and 8270, etc.) usually does not produce the chemical detail needed to defensibly resolve environmental forensic questions. Conventional lists of chemicals measured to demonstrate regulatory compliance do not include the dominant and important hydrocarbon compounds that make up petroleum. For example, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX) compounds measured using standard US EPA methods (i.e., methods 8270 and 8260) typically make up less than five to eight percent of the total PAHs and volatile chemicals in most petroleum products, and as such the data have, at best, limited diagnostic value (Douglas and Uhler, 1993). Instead, methods of chemical analysis suitable for environmental forensics investigations measure a broader suite of compounds in gasoline and diesel fuel that are useful for source identification and differentiation.

For investigations of gasoline or middle-distillate (e.g. heating oils, diesel fuels, kerosene) releases, we recommend the use of a tiered analytical strategy that captures a full spectrum of chemical compositional information (Figure 1). Such a strategy allows for the quantitative measurement of a large number of gasoline-range (volatile) and diesel range (semi-volatile) hydrocarbons and non-hydrocarbons. In gasoline investigations this involves measurement of nearly one hundred of the so-called “PIANO” compounds (paraffins, iosparaffins, aromatics, naphthenes, olefins), oxygenates, alkyl lead additives, halogenated lead scavangers, and volatile sulfur compounds. In diesel fuel investigations this involves the measurement of n-alkanes, acyclic isoprenoids, parent and alkylated PAH, low-boiling biomarkers (e.g., sesquiterpanes), and total sulfur concentrations. Detailed descriptions of the analytical methods used to measure these compounds have been published elsewhere (Stout et al., 2002; Uhler et al., 2003; Douglas et al., 2004).

Diesel Fuel Fingerprinting
Diesel fuel #2 used in on-road vehicles belong to the distillate family of fuels. As their name implies, the production of distillate fuels involves vaporizing and re-condensing, which distinguishes them from the higher boiling, residual fuels (e.g., fuel oil #6). With minor exceptions, diesel fuel #2 generally boils within the range of approximately 100oC to 400oC. The specific characteristic of any given diesel fuel #2 will depend upon: (1) the specific “recipe” by which it was refined and blended (e.g., hydrotreated versus straight-run), (2) the nature of the crude-oil feedstock (e.g., sweet versus sour crude), and (3) the intended market (e.g., on-road versus off-road grade diesel fuel; Stout et al., 2004). Each of these factors can introduce considerable variability in the detailed molecular composition of distillate fuels.

Due to the detrimental effects (corrosion, wear, and deposit build-up) sulfur has on engine and furnace parts, and the implications for deleterious effects on air quality, sulfur content of most distillate fuels has been long specified (Gruse, 1967). The first U.S. specification for diesel fuel #2, dating from 1922, required less than 1.5 %vol sulfur (less than 15,000 parts per million or “ppm;” Gruse, 1967). However, it was quickly learned that the higher the sulfur content, the greater were the maintenance problems encountered in diesel engines. Thus, in practice, most historic diesel fuels contained less than 5000 ppm sulfur. In 1993, due to concerns surrounding air emissions (not engine maintenance), the EPA required that on-road varieties of “low sulfur” diesel fuel contain less than 500 ppm sulfur. Prior to 1993, on-road diesel fuels #2 contained an average of 2,500 ppm sulfur (U.S. EPA, 2000), i.e., five times higher than current limit. This difference in sulfur content with time can prove useful in certain environmental forensic investigations at sites where the “age” of diesel fuel determines liability. Another case study illustrates the potential usefulness of examining sulfur content differences:

Lived there for 30+ years.  The town use to have the best water around, then they drilled a new well in the 90’s closer to the irrigation system, and that’s when the water really went down hill.  I haven’t lived out there for about five years now so I really can’t so how bad the water is.  It may have something to do with the drilling or it may not.  Unless yo want to go back to 3rd world living standards the drilling must continue.  If you want to complain about it go one month without that stuff the oil and gas industry provides us. No food, no fresh water, cell phones, no homes, I could go on and on but I won’t.  You say no food or fresh water think about it, it’s not hard to figure out if you have some common sense, which I highly doubt most of you that are posting these comments have.  So I will await some not so bright replies and enlighten you if you can’t figure it out.

Are you toby the troll? Sound like it the way you write.

It’s okay that my drinking water catches fire… those gas companies put food on the table.

If this is not living life completely out of balance with nature/human physiology/ecology, then perhaps they could paint a picture of something that is?

I’m guessing that those Bhopal residents in India were “just a bunch of negative Nellies”.

It’s okay that my drinking water catches fire… those gas companies put food on the table.

If this is not living life completely out of balance with nature/human physiology/ecology, then perhaps they could paint a picture of something that is?

I’m guessing that those Bhopal residents in India were just a bunch of negative Nellies

So I will await some not so bright replies and enlighten you if you can’t figure it out.

And by the way yo rite, You must have been drinkin the water all those years and even having it bottled for you to use today…  I live in a country where I pay over 30 dollars for a bottle which is 13 kg in weight.  Our Diesel is costing almost 2 dollars a liter and not sure what gasoline costs as I never use it.  I have been paying these prices for over 30 years and am not bitching about it.  We drive smaller engine cars and pickups and most of the trucks ar 4 cyl ...  Sounds to me that you folks need some lessons in conservation…..  Hmmmmmmmm
- Show quoted text -

jim james—it’s easy to explain how a well bore that goes to 10-35,000’: the well bore is drilling into rock, shale—not dirt at 500’ cracks/crevices form horizontally on the vertical, then vertically when the well bore makes a 45-degree turn and runs horizontally—that’s what hydrofracturing does, as opposed to most strictly vertical drilling (except that horizontal crack/crevices are found via the vertical wells, too). well bores have fittings and conduits that shift and leak (or in the case of a recent well in central PA, proof from the state DEP that a well bore that exploded was never constructed properly in the first place). the chemically-laden water is supposedly brought back up with the gas, but in most cases, up to 60% of it remains underground. workers who run a rig 90 days straight, 24-7 make a lot of mistakes fracking, and many more in supposedly porting the chemical fracking cocktail (comprised of millions of gallons of local tap water for each well, plus said chemicals) away from the drilling site. most often, they’re dumped into large earth pits to await further portage. sometimes the pits are lined with plastic, but they leak on their own, and overflow during high rainfall.

voila—a few ways the groundwater gets contaminated by hydrofracturing. you’re on propublica. have a look at the past two years worth of investigation on their part—it’s all here.

C’mon people…this is your opportunity!!  Sign those leases….profit hugely…move to Paraguay.  One big toxic dump…yeah…‘better living through chemistry’.

These people are out to kill you and your families, destroy your land and property, your way of life and so far I am nothing..  Does lil Dick Cheney hold such a strangle hold on the state of Wyoming that he can call all the shots? 

Shouldn’t these people start paying their debt for the destruction and medical problems they have caused?

If it were my land, my property, my or my families health and welfare, I would be out hunting scalps…

The first sentence should read “your way of life, and so far, I am seeing nothing, no outrage, nothing…

Sorry ‘bout that it were there before and it fell off the end of the world I guess…

mrs. robinson,

Good answer but, unless I missed it, I still don’t understand how a horizontal frac which can extend up to half a mile can contaminate ground water that is above it more than 10,000 feet. And I understand fracking, spending the last four years on the Pinedale Anticline, hauling flowback for disposal in injection wells.  And I might add that the safety issues required included putting a 5 gallon bucket (has to be metal) under my tanker valves, to catch an “spill” which my safety officer described as anything more than an 8 oz cup of fluid. And ALL pits for at least the last eight years have been lined. And, considering I hauled to and from at least 300 locations, I never heard of one leaking.  Before, when I did the same thing, back the 80s, there were some unlined pits out at Lysite.

I’m wondering, when drilling is proposed,why do landowners and other stake holders, not get certified samples of their water for comparison if something untoward should develop in the future?  Easy enough then to “prove” the drilling is the culprit..

All those chemicals that come back out of those wells are sent to injection wells and are injected into supposedly “impervious” layers that keep them from traveling into the watershed. Keep in mind that for the life of those wells +/- 30 years that there are trucks continually hauling the waste water from them 24/7/365. Also the solids left from drilling is spread on land and tilled in chemicals and all. Wonder what problems will turn up years from now from doing that.

Here is a blog from N. Texas that shows all the problems in the gas industry here in TX.
http://txsharon.blogspot.com/

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Fracking

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

More »

Get Updates

Stay on top of what we’re working on by subscribing to our email digest.

optional