EnCana says drilling did not taint Wyoming water, says “extremely low” methane levels are naturally occurring

EnCana says drilling did not taint Wyoming water by Jon Hurdle with editing by David Gregorio, September 8, 2010, Reuters
Doug Hock, a spokesman for EnCana Corp., said government tests on 17 private water wells in the farming town of Pavillion, Wyoming, showed low levels of petroleum hydrocarbons, and inorganic substances that naturally occur. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report from August found a “drinking water concern” on the basis of hydrocarbons and other chemicals found in wells tested in January. In response, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry recommended affected residents find alternative sources of water for drinking and cooking. The agency’s recommendation was based on the detection of inorganic substances such as sodium and sulfates that are unrelated to approximately 250 gas wells operated by EnCana around Pavillion, Hock said.

The EPA, which reached no conclusion on the source of the contamination, said it found “low” levels of petroleum hydrocarbons in 17 of the 19 wells tested but many were unrelated to oil and gas, Hock said. “It refers to a broad spectrum of chemicals that are not associated with oil and gas,” he said in an interview. Of the contaminants traced to the oil and gas industry, none exceeded federal or state standards for hazardous concentrations, Hock said. In response to the report, EnCana will pay for alternative sources of drinking water for affected residents; studying the integrity of its wells, including the casings that run through aquifers, and reassessing the remediation of wastewater pits, Hock said. …

Energy companies contend the chemicals are separated from aquifers by steel and concrete casings, and used thousands of feet below drinking water sources, so cannot taint water. Hock said EnCana is working with the EPA and Wyoming authorities to clean up three Pavillion wastewater pits where the agency found “high” levels of petroleum compounds in groundwater. The pits, together with 25 others that have already been remediated, were inherited by EnCana from a previous operator, Hock said.

Asked about possible sources of contaminants found by the EPA, Hock said some may have come from water well components such as rubber washers. Methane found in some wells — which prompted officials to recommend ventilating bathrooms when showering — was at “extremely low” levels, indicating that it was naturally occurring, he said. “If this was related to oil and gas production wells, we would be seeing much higher levels of methane,” Hock said. [Emphasis added]

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