In a draft report (pdf) released today, the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed what many residents of Pavilion, Wyoming have been complaining about for some time now: Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is responsible for polluting the area's drinking water.
Fracking is a controversial method used to make it easier to extract natural gas, petroleum and other substances. As the AP explains, this is the first time the EPA has linked the practice to the contamination of drinking water. The gas industry has denied any responsibility.
The wire service adds:
"The EPA's found that compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals had been detected in the groundwater beneath a Wyoming community where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals.
"Health officials advised them not to drink their water after the EPA found hydrocarbons in their wells.
"The EPA announcement has major implications for the vast increase in gas drilling in the U.S. in recent years. Fracking has played a large role in opening up many reserves.
"The industry has long contended that fracking is safe, but environmentalists and some residents who live near drilling sites say it has poisoned groundwater."
Before issuing this report, the EPA had advised residents not to drink their water, because, as MSNBC says, the EPA "said it had found benzene and other hydrocarbons in wells it tested."
MSNBC adds that Pavillion residents welcomed the report.
"This investigation proves the importance of having a federal agency that can protect people and the environment," John Fenton, chair of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, told MSNBC. "We hope that answers to our on-going health problems and other impacts can now be addressed and that the responsible parties will finally be required to remediate the damages."
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, who is a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said the report was a political ploy.
"EPA's conclusions are not based on sound science but rather on political science. Its findings are premature, given that the Agency has not gone through the necessary peer-review process, and there are still serious outstanding questions regarding EPA's data and methodology," said Inhofe in a statement. "This announcement is part of President Obama's war on fossil fuels and his determination to shut down natural gas production."
Update at 6:05 p.m. ET. Earlier this evening, NPR's Elizabeth Shogren spoke to All Things Considered's Robert Siegel. She explained the EPA found these chemicals by drilling wells of their own and testing the drinking water.
"They found chemicals that shouldn't be there," Elizabeth said. Some of the glycols and alcohols "don't occur there naturally, but they are found in the cocktails of chemicals that the industry injected underground."
A couple of more things Elizabeth points out:
-- The geological formation in this area is very special, so what the EPA found here may not necessarily translate to other places.
-- The company that's doing the fracking in Pavilion, the Calgary, Alberta-based Encana, disputed the report saying the EPA could have introduced the pollutants themselves.
-- This is a draft report. It is now open for public comment.