U.S. finds water polluted near gas-drilling sites
* Potential obstacle for U.S. energy extraction
* 2-BE, used in drilling, linked to series of illnesses
* Natural gas companies say drilling technique is safe
By Jon Hurdle
PHILADELPHIA, Aug 27 (Reuters) - U.S. government scientists have for the first time found chemical contaminants in drinking water wells near natural gas drilling operations, fueling concern that a gas-extraction technique is endangering the health of people who live close to drilling rigs.
The Environmental Protection Agency found chemicals that researchers say may cause illnesses including cancer, kidney failure, anemia and fertility problems in water from 11 of 39 wells tested around the Wyoming town of Pavillion in March and May this year.
The report issued this month did not reach a conclusion about the cause of contamination but named gas drilling as a potential source.
Gas drilling companies say the gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is safe, but opponents contend it pollutes groundwater with dangerous substances.
Evidence of a link between gas drilling and water contamination would set back development of a clean-burning fuel promoted by the Obama administration as crucial to the future of U.S. energy production.
Some experts believe the United States holds more than 100 years worth of natural gas reserves. The new findings may raise questions about the process companies such as EnCana Corp (ECA.TO), Halliburton Co (HAL.N) and others commonly use to pump the gas from deep geological formations. Encana, Canada's biggest energy company, is drilling in Pavillion.
"There may be an indication of groundwater contamination by oil and gas activities," said the 44-page report, which received little public attention when released on Aug. 11. "Many activities in gas well drilling (and) hydraulic fracturing ... involve injecting water and other fluids into the well and have the potential to create cross-contamination of aquifers."
Among the contaminants found in some of the wells was 2-butoyethanol, or 2-BE, a solvent used in natural gas extraction, which researchers say causes the breakdown of red blood cells, leading to blood in the urine and feces, and can damage the kidneys, liver, spleen and bone marrow.
Greg Oberley, an EPA scientist who has been testing the water samples, said the agency did not set out to prove that hydraulic fracturing caused groundwater contamination, but was responding to complaints from local residents that their well water had become discolored or foul-smelling or tasted bad.
The investigation was the EPA's first in response to claims that gas drilling is polluting water supplies, he said. Testing will continue.
For the full report from Reuters, CLICK HERE.