Saturday, February 26, 2011


The investigative website Pro Publica, which has done a lot of work on gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region, posted a long and remarkable overview of the issue of hydraulic fracture this week, which is well worth reading. It centers on the story of a Vietnam vet in Sublette County, Wyoming, whose water was poisoned by the process. Here's a few representative paragraphs, along with the link. -MH

"In 1999 there had been fewer than 35 producing wells in the Pinedale drilling field, which had hitherto seen little activity aside from ranchers running cattle and the nearby crossing of the Oregon Trail. By 2008, there were more than 1,100, and EnCana, Shell, BP and other companies were lining up to participate in the drilling of 4,400 more Sublette County wells on the ocean of sagebrush.

Much of the land in Sublette County is owned by the federal government, which meant that the Environmental Protection Agency — not just state regulators — was charged with conducting an environmental review before drilling is allowed. As part of that review, in 2007 EPA hydrologists sampled a pristine drinking water aquifer that underlay the region. What they found was a show-stopper: frighteningly high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, in 88 separate samples stretching across 28 miles...

In the past, water contamination in drilling fields had been blamed on outdated practices — the messy mistakes of the 1950s. But drilling in Pinedale was relatively new. In this modern field, any contamination linked to drilling also had to be linked to contemporary practices.

For perhaps the first time, federal officials charged with watching over the nation’s drinking water in the oil and gas fields were alarmed. 'I had to change my paradigm on how the industry was operating,' Oberley said. 'That’s kind of where I said, This needs a better look.' "

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