WASHINGTON Jan 11 The U.S. government is
delaying for 8 months a comment period on a report that offered
the first evidence in decades that fracking for natural gas
contaminates water supplies.
The stall, the third on the 2011 draft report on water in
Wyoming, is the latest example of the federal government
delaying conclusions on whether hydraulic fracturing, or
fracking can lead to pollution in water supplies.
The drilling technique has sparked a revolution in domestic
drilling that could one day make the country a net gas exporter.
Environmentalists worry fracking can pollute water and air.
Drillers deny that and have said Environmental Protection Agency
testing methods may have tainted water samples in Pavillion,
Wyoming, the region the EPA examined in the report.
The comment period on the EPA report will now last until
September 30 to allow residents, industry and local government
more time to have their say and for the agency to include new
data, an EPA spokeswoman said on Friday.
The report, released by the EPA in December 2011, said the
best explanation for the pollution in Pavillion was that fluids
used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, migrated up from
fracking operations and contaminated an aquifer.
The chemicals included benzene, alcohols and glycols, it said.
The EPA conducted the report after local residents
complained for years about smells and odd tastes in their
drinking water drawn from wells near a natural gas field owned
by EnCana Corp of Canada.
Environmentalists have said the report confirms their fears.
It is the first time since 1987 the government has given
evidence that fracking pollutes water supplies. During fracking,
companies force large amounts of water, sand and chemicals deep
underground to free gas and oil trapped behind rock.
The hot-button topic made its way to Hollywood in December
in the movie "Promised Land", with actors Matt Damon and John
In September, the U.S. Geological Survey released raw data
on water quality from a well near Pavillion, but did not provide
any analysis on the data, leaving the information open to
The EPA said at the time that the data was "generally
consistent" with ground water monitoring data at Pavillion that
it had previously released.
Encana, which is providing bottled water to about 20
families in Pavillion, blasted the delay. "It's disappointing,
there's no credible reason to delay any further," said Doug
Hock, an Encana spokesman. The study is a "waste of time and
money," he said, adding his company thinks the USGS data showed
the water was not contaminated by fracking.
The EPA said in 2011 Wyoming was much more vulnerable than
other areas of the country to water contamination from fracking
chemicals because drilling there often takes place much closer
to the surface than in other states. Wyoming is one of the
country's top state producers of natural gas. Output there has
suffered recently due to low prices for the fuel.
In the recent past, the agency also delayed results on a
wider study on fracking's effects on national water supplies
until 2014, two years after initial targets it had set.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Andrew Hay)