From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 36 - September 4, 2008
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PAWG report: Area wells contaminated

by Stephen Crane

On Aug. 26, The Pinedale Anticline Working Group (PAWG) released its annual Surface and Groundwater Report, which revealed that a number of area wells were above accepted levels of contamination.

According to the requirements of the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Environmental Impact Statement from July 2000, energy companies must analyze “all water wells within a one-mile radius of existing and proposed development.”

Since that time, the Sublette County Conservation District (SCCD) has performed the yearly analysis, testing for a number of chemicals, including chloride, fluoride, sulfate, and total dissolved solids (TDS — a general water-quality standard).

Beginning in spring 2008, qualifying wells were also tested for total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), which measures the diesel range organics (DRO) and gasoline range organics (GRO) of the water.

Due to the nature of energy development, which requires deep drilling, the TPH test is a significant indicator of contaminating chemicals related to crude oil.

In its annual report, the SCCD gave results from 257 samples, taken from 220 wells. These included industrial wells, stock wells and domestic wells.

The chemical readings were then measured against the drinking water-quality standard and the livestock water standard established by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In relation to the chemical testing, no wells were found to exceed the livestock water standard. For the drinking water standard, however, 23 percent were above accepted limits.

For chloride, two industrial wells measured above the drinking water standard of 250 mg per liter. The highest reading was 326 mg per liter.

The analysis for fluoride found 50 wells exceeding the drinking water standard of 4 mg per liter. Eight of these wells were domestic, and two were stock wells. The largest reading was 16.2 mg per liter. Sulfate levels surpassed the drinking water standard of 250 mg per liter in 36 wells, including five stock wells and seven domestic. The highest concentration was 1,620 mg per liter.

And the general test for TDS found 48 wells exceeding the EPA drinking water standard of 500 mg per liter. The strongest reading was 2,610 mg per liter.

The TPH test, which detects chemicals associated with petroleum, found 15 wells contaminated with these hydrocarbons.

Fourteen were industrial wells, and one was a stock well.

For each well that tested positive for TPH, the well was retested and also analyzed for benzene, ethylbenzene, m+p-xylenes, o-xylene, and toluene (BTEX), chemicals that are associated with “discharge from petroleum factories,” according to the EPA.

Of the wells tested, DRO was detected in three, all industrial. GRO was detected in 11 wells, and again, all were industrial. For BTEX, 12 wells tested positive, including 11 industrial wells and one stock well.

The contaminated stock well, owned by the Bureau of Land Management, showed a low level of toluene, at just 13 ug per liter, while the maximum contaminant level (MCL) is 1000 ug per liter.

Three of these industrial wells, however, exceeded the MCL.

The greatest violation was a well owned by Ultra Resources named Riverside 15-12, which showed extreme contamination levels, and was described in the PAWG report as having water that was “a dark brown or tan color and had a strong odor…and were the highest TPH levels to date.”

This well, measured on July 23 of this year, showed benzene levels at 7,600 ug (micrograms) per liter. The MCL for benzene, a known carcinogen, is 5 ug per liter. Toluene levels measured at 34,000 ug per liter, while the MCL is 1000 ug per liter. Ethylbenzene measured at 2,500 ug per liter, with an MCL of 700 ug per liter.

Linda Baker, the grassroots coordinator for the Upper Green River Valley Coalition, expressed concern at contamination levels that high.

“Given the hydrogeology of this region, very little is understood,” said Baker. “We need to exercise a lot more caution when figuring where to drill a well.

“It seems like preventive measures would be much less costly, instead of mitigation after the fact.”

As it stands, she would still like to see the BLM implement specific standards that would guarantee proper mitigation by the energy companies, instead of the Voluntary Remediation Program currently in place.

The Record of Decision for the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which is scheduled for release in the coming weeks, will provide the framework for future mitigation requirements.

For more information on the PAWG water report, go to Neither Ultra Resources nor the Sublette County Conservation District could be reached for comment on this story.

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