* EPA: pollution likely from fluids released to aquifer
* Chemicals found in aquifer include benzene
* Wyoming fracking is shallower than in Pennsylvania
* Owner of field Encana denies polluting aquifer
* Republican Inhofe: report is "premature"
(Adds Encana, Inhofe, analysts comments, details on
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, Dec 8 Drilling fluids from a
company employing a technique known as "fracking" likely
polluted an aquifer in Wyoming, environmental regulators said
in a draft report that could blow apart industry claims the
process has never led to water contamination.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's investigation
into the polluted aquifer could have wide implications on a
booming industry that has promoted hydraulic fracturing as way
to dramatically wean the United States off gas and oil
The agency said "the best explanation" for the pollution in
the wells in Pavillion, Wyoming was that fluids from hydraulic
fracturing contaminated the aquifer.
The EPA, however, noted that Wyoming was much more
vulnerable to water contamination from fracking chemicals than
other areas because drilling there often takes place much
closer to the surface than in other states.
In the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, which is also
experiencing a drilling boom, drilling occurs much farther
below water sources, which could make pollution from fluids
harder to migrate into aquifers.
The EPA said the pollution in Wyoming, which it detected
after drilling monitoring wells, included benzene, which can
cause cancer, alcohols and glycols.
"The presence of these compounds is consistent with
migration from areas of gas production," it said.
Doug Hock, a spokesman for EnCana Corp (ECA.TO) that owns
the field in Wyoming slammed the report. "The synthetic
chemicals could just have easily come from contamination when
the EPA did their sampling, or from how they constructed their
Some residents near Pavillion have been receiving bottled
water paid for by Encana, a Canadian energy company, since
August 2010 after they complained their water tasted and
REPORT "PREMATURE" REPUBLICAN SAYS
In fracking, drillers blast large amounts of water,
chemicals and sand deep underground to crack the rock so the
hydrocarbons can be released.
Industry groups have said in the decades that fracking has
been developed, it has never polluted water supplies, because
the drilling occurs far below the water sources such as
Environmentalists have long protested that fracking
pollutes water with chemicals from the fluids and as methane
bubbles up into wells. The process also releases air pollution,
Amy Mall, a fracking expert at the Natural Resources
Defense Council, said the report "underscores the urgent need
to get federal rules and safeguards on the books to help
protect all Americans from the dangers of fracking.
Republicans in Congress have been urging the Obama
administration to back off federal regulation of fracking
because the industry is creating jobs and securing the
country's energy future.
Senator Jim Inhofe, the ranking member on the Senate
environment committee, who spoke with EPA Administrator Lisa
Jackson on Thursday, said "EPA's conclusions are not based on
sound science but rather on political science."
He called the findings "premature" since the report has not
been subject to peer-review.
Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, agreed
that the EPA's report was not yet conclusive.
"The EPA has made the circumstantial case that fracking led
to the pollution, but they stopped short of stating that
definitely," Book said.
The EPA said it issued the draft report precisely to seek
peer review of the research. The agency opened it up to a
45-day public comment period and a 30-day peer review.
The EPA's authority over fracking is limited by a 2005
energy law that mostly exempted the practice from federal
oversight under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In recent months, though, the EPA has moved ahead with
regulations of those areas shale gas production that do fall
under its purview, including waste water and air emissions.
(Additional reporting by Edward McAllister in New York; and
Roberta Rampton, Ayesha Rascoe, in Washington; editing by Bob
Burgdorfer and Marguerita Choy)