Saturday, December 17, 2011

Frick and Frack, Wyoming Style

The drinking water in the Pavilion, Wyoming area contains at least 10 of the chemicals used in fracking. That doesn’t surprise anyone living in Pavilion. Their water has been so obviously contaminated by fracking that even an oil company denying its complicity has been providing them fresh drinking water for months.

Knowing that, if you were the governor of all the people wouldn’t you give their health the benefit of the doubt?

But the governor of some of the people, Matt Mead, says the conclusions reached by the Environmental Protection Agency need more study. In other words, the burden of proof is on the people who drink the water and not on the oil and gas companies polluting it.

Louis Meeks lives in the area. He spoke to Abrahm Lustgarten of Propublica last summer. Meeks said his drinking water was once clear and smelled sweet. Today he fills a glass of water from his farm’s tap so you can see the swirling, rainbow colored film floating in the tumbler.

Meeks knows what’s happened and so does the EPA. But the governor of some of the people needs more proof.

As you travel south of Cheyenne to the Colorado border you can see the rise of a Wamsutter like village in Laramie County. There’s a great deal of chamber-of-commerce-like cheerleading about what they call the oil and gas play.  While we welcome the jobs and the economic development, it should heighten your interest in quickly learning more about fracking.

A slang term for hydraulic fracturing, “fracking” refers to injecting chemical-laden fluids into rock formations to force those cracks to get larger. The larger the fissures, the more oil and gas flows out of the formation and into the wellbore, from where it can be extracted. Apparently, the chemicals then flow into underground water supplies.

Oil companies have long claimed the pollution is likely caused by something else. Their interests pit them against the scientific conclusions reached by the EPA. The difference means the governor has to choose sides.

Last week the EPA found chemicals used to fracture rocks in drilling for natural gas in central Wyoming are the likely cause of contaminated local water supplies. “Alternative explanations,” the EPA said, “were carefully considered to explain individual sets of data. However, when considered together with other lines of evidence, the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing.”

The people of Pavillion have long been able to smell, see and taste the dangerous chemicals in their water. Health officials recommended they not drink their water and go to the extreme of ventilating their bathrooms while showering. The people of Pavilion were not surprised by the EPA study

But the governor of some of the people says the study is “scientifically questionable.” The stock market knows what the people of Pavilion know and on Thursday shares of the nation’s biggest fracker were off 5%. More to follow as those who invest in frackers move their confidence money somewhere safer.

It may be that the EPA is wrong. Oil and gas company scientists may have it right. More study might be necessary. It may be the people of Pavilion can’t rely on their lying eyes and noses. But at the end of the day they have funny smelling water, documented health problems and the conclusions reached by the federal agency established by law to protect them from big oil and gas companies that might not have their interests at heart. It seems counterintuitive that a governor would be willing to put the burden of proof on those people instead of those oil and gas companies.

The governor of some of the people may also be right as well. Perhaps the EPA study is “scientifically inconclusive.” So while he waits for one that is “scientifically conclusive” I wonder if he’s willing to allow his family to drink Pavilion water?

1 comment:

  1. A well-written and damning post, Rodger. I respect Governors who go to where the trouble is and use a little of their own judgement when dealing with problems like this. Gov. Mead is obviously NOT unbiased in his judgement in this situation. In so many issues, (global warming, environmental pollution, marriage equality, evolution)there is a portion of our electorate that chooses to ignore science regardless of any amount of evidence.