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February 09, 2012 8:26 am

EDITORIAL: Paying the price for mineral development

Written by Don Amend

Early this week, Gov. Matt Mead met with residents in the Pavillion area in an effort to resolve complaints some have raised about groundwater tainted by pollution.

Specifically, some residents of the rural area in northern Fremont County believe their wells have been contaminated by the chemicals used in the process of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking. Fracking involves pumping water, sand and various chemicals under pressure into a well to release oil or gas by fracturing tight rock formations.

Late last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, following a two-year study, found a possible link between fracking activity in the area and chemicals found in the groundwater. Both state and industry officials have criticized the report, as have some area residents who don’t believe there has been any change in their water.

Despite the doubts, Mead held the meeting because he believes it is in the state’s interest to make sure residents have clean water available. Options for addressing the issue involve costs to the state ranging from $400,000 to $3 million.

The issues involved go far beyond the Pavillion area. Recently a fracking operation was carried out southeast of Powell. When questioned, a state regulator assured the Powell Tribune that the depth of the operation, nearly two miles underground, would cause no problems with the water table in that area.

That may well be so in this case, but it seems improbable that such an operation would never pollute water sources vital to rural residents or to municipal or regional systems. Moreover, it seems likely that other problems could arise as well. A recent spate of earthquakes in Ohio, an area not generally susceptible to seismic activity, has raised questions about fracking activity in that area.

Nor is this a new problem. Subsidence due to long closed underground coal mines has limited housing development in Rock Springs, and attempts to deal with the situation, is blamed for damaging existing homes. Chemicals from mining operations conducted over a century ago still threaten streams in the Rocky Mountain West, and modern-day accidents, such as the British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, are always a possibility.

Much more attention is paid to these consequences now than in the past. Generally, but not universally, industry is more careful about preventing or mitigating such problems.

Still, in our quest for energy and other minerals, individuals, families, businesses and whole communities may be harmed, even destroyed by some unforeseen consequence, such as pollution caused by fracking fluids.

We cannot, of course, discontinue our search for oil and gas to avoid those damages, but industry and society need to recognize that they exist and can have serious consequences, if not to us immediately, to our children and grandchildren. As a society, we must take the costs of dealing with those consequences into account when we determine the cost of the energy we use.

Using state funds to address the issues in Fremont County is one way of doing that, and Gov. Mead is to be commended for taking that approach.

2 comments

  • Comment Link February 09, 2012 9:06 am posted by Dewey

    Pavilion is just a blip; a single data point ; as was the blown out gas well up at Clark. For the real cloud of data points, look north to Alberta where the same company that drilled the suspicious wells in Pavilion---that would be EnCana, HQ'd in Calgary --- already has fifty or more contaminated water wells on its hand from fracks. Alberta has its own Erin Brockovich...her name is Julia Ernst , a biologist who worked for the oil and gas compn aies until her own water well went bad from a nearby gas frack. She got to looking around and found she was far from being alone in this. Even in Alberta, which has really REALLY lax fracking regulations, compliance reporting, and environmental regs in general, she was able to catalog a slew of bad wells. The number of incursive polluting fracks may be north of 200 by now and climbing.
    Wait till the entire Eastern U.S. starts logging on in the Marcellus. Pavilion Wyoming is just one particle in the cloud. It's one that the entire industry is bearing down on , with the State of Wyoming's ultra-compliant assistance. But soon enough , the entire fracking picture will begin to resolve, and it is downright ugly.

    Are we willing to make Faustian bargains to get all that for-profit gas to sate our dependence on hydrocarbon energy ? We are just as addicted to methane as that heroin addict is on his opium product. And the gas companies and state of Wyoming are the drug dealers...

  • Comment Link February 09, 2012 2:03 pm posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    People sure do like that revenue from oil & gas production though.

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