CHEYENNE, Wyo. — New groundwater testing in Wyoming shows lower levels of the carcinogen benzene than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported when it linked contaminants in two water wells to hydraulic fracturing, but only one well was tested this time.

Benzene is a hydrocarbon commonly associated with oil and gas development. Last year's testing by the EPA showed benzene at almost 50 times the recommended EPA limit. The new data released Wednesday by the U.S. Geological Survey show benzene at 3 percent of the recommended EPA limit.

This year's tests and the previous tests aren't an apples-to-apples comparison, however. Researchers this time around decided they couldn't get enough water for a reliable sample from one of the wells the EPA drilled to test for pollution near the rural community of Pavillion.

That low-flowing well had the very high benzene level. In the other well — the one researchers relied on for this year's testing — any amount of benzene in the groundwater tested was too small to be detected last year.

In that sense, the results for benzene this year are in line with last year's.

The results from this year's testing generally are "consistent with ground water monitoring data previously released," EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said by email.

Environmental groups and Encana Corp., the Calgary-based petroleum company that operates the Pavillion gas field, declined to comment on the meaning behind the data released Wednesday, saying they needed more time to analyze the material.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead also said the state would need more time to review the data gathered in collaboration with the USGS, Wyoming, the EPA and two American Indian tribes.

"I feel that the process used to acquire this data was an improvement on the process used for the draft EPA report last December," Mead said in a news release.

One person each representing Wyoming, the EPA and the two tribes had the opportunity to view the data in advance and agreed not to discuss any of that information, according to Mead spokesman Renny MacKay.

The USGS released tables the amounts of dozens of chemicals without offering any analysis.

Benzene is not among the chemicals the EPA pointed to last year in making the link to hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. The process involved blasting millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals down well holes to crack open formations and improve the flow of oil and gas.

Wyoming officials and the petroleum industry criticized the draft EPA study released in December, characterizing its findings as flimsy. State officials were further incensed the EPA did not consult with them about the testing it was doing on their turf.

Last winter, Wyoming officials and the EPA mended fences and announced they would collaborate with the USGS and tribes on the new testing, which occurred over two days in late April.

Meanwhile, some Pavillion-area homeowners continue to complain about well water that became befouled by chemicals after gas drilling picked up in their neighborhood about seven years ago.

One environmentalist representing the affected residents wished for more official analysis to go with the reams of new data.

"A better interpretation of the data would have been beneficial for the impacted residents and the public," Deb Thomas, with the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said by email.

Encana spokesman Doug Hock said the fact that one of the wells didn't produce enough water to use for the new testing casts doubt on the previous testing.

"EPA's wells are improperly constructed," he said by email.

Encana will comment on the results after it had more time to review them, he said.

A full peer review of the sampling and findings to date will occur later.

(22) comments

billy banger
billy banger

Where are the critics of the USGS now that they found smaller amounts of contaminants?

ReadySetGo
ReadySetGo

3% of the limit isn't contaminated. I bet the Yellowstone above Laurel has a higher amount. Sorry banger, but please leave science to those that understand.

billy banger
billy banger

Science is not some corporation paying and specifying the results before the testing is done as Wyoming and the oil company would like. It is producing unbiased results like the USGS does without comment on the results. They report what they find and leave it up to angecies like the EPA to dedide if the results warrant further action. They tested for a wide variety of contaminants I wonder what other things they found. The benzene was below limits but that does not mean all other chemicals were also below.
The kind of science that READYSETGO believes in is that where the result is know before the test is done. We call that paying for wanted results.

ReadySetGo
ReadySetGo

What? The USGS water sampling was done by consultants who know how to take water samples from a well. Not some EPA hacks that have never left a desk and was using contaminated water to clean equipment. Yet you and your buddies take tainted science and act like it is reality.

riveredge1
riveredge1

Doesnt anyone listen to the screams from back east where folks light their water on fire ...hello...what is it going to take..dead live stock...sick and dying people shoved in your face to make you see what the STUFF they shove down to frack with is.....not good. Go a head and bad mouth me like you do every time I comment...I wont be back to look...

bigskynative
bigskynative

Back east, they were fracking at less than 1,000 feet below the surface. Out here its done at 10,000 + feet. No bad mouth here, but they could light water in some areas of the east long before fracking started. Its natural in some areas, just like water is better in some places than others. When blame is due, blame. But destroying a whole industry when the cause is not even determined is ridiculous at best.

montanadigital
montanadigital

I Believe Josh Fox and his Documentary 'GasLand 2010'.

Fracking is a Bad Process invented by Halliburton, the same company that Raped the American Tax Payer with Cost Plus in Iraq.

ReadySetGo
ReadySetGo

Did you ever watch Truthland or do you only watch propaganda from the Sierra Club, MCFF, TU, MWF and other liberal extremists organizations. I doubt you and billlie could handle the truth. But the truth is out there and development can and is being done safe and responsibly.

tumbleweed
tumbleweed

Just ask BP and the "Drill Baby Drill" Party... ("Spill Baby Spill" is more appropriate!)

ReadySetGo
ReadySetGo

And BP cleaned up the spill. What is your point? Accidents do happen. Automobile drivers get in accidents. Do you plan on banning cars and anything related to automobiles. You people make no sense. Funny how we had a spill on the Yellowstone and none of the liberals praise the hard work done by the company to clean up the problem. Except for the enviros working for the NWF, everyone is happy with the level of cleanup.

Regular Guy
Regular Guy

Sounds like Wyoming and the media are too quick to jump on the new results. They need to be analyzed, with method and results compared with other studies. The big picture isn't too pretty. Who wants any amount of benzene in their water? But benzene is just one of the suspect chemicals. And what about the earthquakes related to fracking? This article is misleading.

51 Flathead
51 Flathead

All water has some chemicals in it,if people paid attention to fluoride and other junk in their drinking water,they would stop drinking it.Billings water is no exception.

billy banger
billy banger

The USGS is the premier water sampling agency and their results are unquestioned. They are not the EPA although at times they do sample for the EPA. I think some here are confused. The USGS does not hire consultants to do their work they are the ones doing the unbiased work in the Federal arena. As far as the whole fracking goes why do the companies fight tooth and nail not to put a marker into the fluids they pump into the ground, because the do not want a direct link if contamination is found. They can keep their secret ingredients secret but just add one more, a marker unique to each company.

ReadySetGo
ReadySetGo

Fracking is so real that Bollywood is even making a movie. Hope that banger can get across the tracks to the theater to watch this production.

http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/for_his_next_escape_x46uFSONrAaCey67ZzZV0I

BillingsConservative
BillingsConservative

Funny how EPA tests that show fraking is safe are summarily dismissed by opponents while anecdotal stories from the East are readily accepted as gospel. Fraking is performed deep, very deep, well below the water aquifers being tested and is probably safer than traditional drilling. And "Earthquakes'? You mean Tremors. 4.X seismic activity is nothing.

Howard Wilkinson
Howard Wilkinson

This is unbelievably dishonest...... The fact is that these chemicals do NOT belong in the ground water. They are not naturally occurring, and showed up after fracking. Now we are told that chemicals are below toxic levels, so it's OK. Now after the governor and the industry he's in bed with got into the process (big money), the results are OK. Something stinks here... benzine perhaps? Perhaps it's governor Mead I'm smelling!! Pavilion after all is a small town, few residents..... we can throw them under the bus "for the greater good"! Teapot Dome set the standard of corruption for Wyoming. Matt Mead appears to be carrying on that tradition! This smells strongly of politics and of corruption!!!

Our MT
Our MT

Hydraulic Fracturing has been done for over sixty years on more than 100,000 wells. Yet there is not a single case where it has been shown to have contaminated people's water. Not one. A location in Pennsylvania, and Pavillion, WY, have been the enviro extremists example of 'the problem'. Now the data from both locations has shown the extremist's fears are unfounded.

Some day, somewhere, there will be an accident. Though the fact remains that "fracking" has been shown to be exceptionally safe. FWIW, disposal of the so called green CFL light bulbs has caused more pollution than fracking.

Howard Wilkinson
Howard Wilkinson

This is an obvious industry propaganda comment........... Fracking as done in the past 60 years DID NOT USE TOXIC CHEMICALS for the most part. It used CO2, Water, explosives, etc. This chemical stew is NEW TECHNOLOGY. It has been found in ground water, and been adamantly denied by the industry. You cannot prove the source of course...... And the formulas are SECRET. If chemicals are found, they are attributed absurdly to natural sources....... or other contamination. Frack fluids will not be detected in the ground water unless there are wells close by, and then may not be detected by the owner of the well. Ultra high pressure and incredible volumes of water and chemicals are pumped down, and WILL find their way up through any crack. To suggest otherwise is an outright lie!!

ReadySetGo
ReadySetGo

Where does banger and wilkinson get this propaganda? Does the NPRC or MWF make this stuff up and send it to the readership at truth? Scary stuff.

billy banger
billy banger

A lot of the superfund sites are just that because they are too big to be cleaned up. We can create problems we cannot solve. We need to keep a close eye on these methods and if they do contaminate the water supplies we need to modify how they do their fracking. Remember the blowout in the gulf, it could have been prevented with the proper regulations.

billy banger
billy banger

Maybe you forgot to read these stories. The USGS samples confirmed what the EPA found a year ago and this confirms what the EPA said. Also they do not release what is in the mix and if no contamination has occured than why do the fight putting a marker in the fluids to prove beyond a doubt nothing has leaked. The fracking back east is in a lot shallower depths and the earthquakes in Texas also prove there is no impact from fracking?

Our MT
Our MT

Howard, perhaps you should CALM DOWN.

My comments weren't industry propaganda they were just a statement of the facts. You and the other enviro extremists are the ones promoting propaganda. There is not one case where fracking has polluted peoples water. Yet you and the anti-fossil fuel folks are SCREAMING bloody murder and falsely claiming it's polluting all our waters.

The chemicals used are NOT SECRET, they are reported. They're typically less than 1%. The one thing you did get right, "Frack fluids will not be detected in the ground water unless there are wells close by". Did you forget? Water wells are a couple hundred feet deep, or less. Oil wells are 8,000 to 12,000 feet deep. Howard, remember the oil bearing rock is the one fractured. Most folks prefer a water bearing formations for their wells, not oil bearing ones. So why SHOUT over a problem which doesn't exist? Oh, that's right, this is all about killing the fossil fuel jobs in MT.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.