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In 2008 we interviewed Pavillion's Louis Meeks about the contamination of his water by the oil and gas industry. It was stories like his, and industry and state government inaction, that finally got EPA involved.

After initial testing in August 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) urged Pavillion-area residents not to drink their water or use it for cooking. The reason: their drinking water wells were contaminated with hazardous chemicals commonly associated with oil and gas development.

In the wake of that testing, the EPA began investigating whether the contamination was actually caused by oil and gas development – that is, they set out to determine if oil and gas development actually was guilty of contaminating people’s drinking water wells.

Last month, the preliminary results of that investigation were released as a draft report: yes, oil and gas development, including hydraulic fracturing, is the culprit.

This is a huge deal.  If these results are confirmed, they will definitively refute the oil and gas industry’s oft-repeated claim that hydraulic fracturing has never contaminated drinking water wells.    

And so the oil and gas industry, and its friends in the Wyoming state government, are pulling out all the stops to block and delegitimize the EPA study before it becomes final.

EnCana Oil & Gas USA, which owns and operates over 200 gas wells in the Pavillion area denies that drilling is to blame for the contamination stating that many of the toxins “occur naturally.” On January 6, 2012, EnCana sent a letter demanding that the EPA suspend the comment period on the report claiming that the agency didn’t give the company copies of all the data it used to compile the report.

The same week, the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and Wyoming Water Development Commission accused the EPA of not following its own water-testing protocols by holding the water well samples two days too long before conducting tests.

These accusations are a political ploy to cover-up the results and bring a halt to the study. We’ve seen this time and again with industry shirking responsibility and the government turning its back on the people who bear the impact of energy development in our country.

And it’s not just me that’s saying it.  It’s the Pavillion residents too:

“Pavillion residents made continual requests for help from the state of Wyoming and industry before seeking assistance from EPA to address the contamination issues. For over 10 years the state refused to help us. That’s when we went to the EPA. Now it appears the state is joining the industry in fighting this study tooth and nail,” – John Fenton, Powder River Basin Resource Council Board Member and Chair of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens.

Industry and the state are so frantic to discredit the study, they’re making claims that make no sense.  Listen to Wilma Subra – a chemist, president of Subra Company, and board member of the State Review of Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER), and MacArthur genius grant recipient:

“The EPA is conducting a scientifically sound investigation of the contamination in the Pavillion area. Problems with hold times are very common and this did not compromise the results. If anything, longer hold times make the results less likely to indicate contamination.”

Pavillion is a town of about 160 residents in the middle of the Wind River Indian Reservation, 150 miles east of Grand Teton National Park.

Toxic chemicals were found in nearly 9 out of every 10 wells sampled. In monitor wells drilled by EPA, benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, was found at 50 times the limit safe for human health along with numerous other toxic chemicals including 2-BE, a chemical used in fracking operations.

Through the years contamination has been suspected, EnCana supplied and then halted drinking water service to residents.

In 2011 EnCana tried to sell its entire Pavillion/Muddy Ridge gas field to Legacy Oil & Gas out of Midland, Texas. Legacy backed out of the sale in late November.

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