EPA links fracing and contamination

Drilling and drinking water are clashing head-on in the West. Federal officials recently announced the contamination of numerous wells near the town of Pavillion, Wyo. At least three of the 39 wells tested contained a chemical known to be used in the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracing.

The Environmental Protection Agency study marks the first time the agency has undertaken its own water-quality study in an oil and gas drilling area. The EPA began sampling in March of this year following concerns from multiple landowners about changes in their water quality and quantity. Two weeks ago, the agency held a community meeting and informed landowners that 11 of the 39 wells tested had at least traces of contaminants. Three of the 11 wells contained chemicals known to be used in fracing, the process in which a chemical stew and sand are injected under high pressure to break up rock and release gas. Pavilion is located near an active gas field, and the company EnCana recently increased its development efforts in the area.

“It’s very concerning that we are finding known fracturing products and hydrocarbons in our citizens’ water wells,” said John Fenton, of Pavilion Area Concerned Citizens. “We’ll await EPA’s determination as to what is the cause of this contamination. However, in the mean time, we are asking EnCana to ensure no more fracturing occurs in the area.”

The EPA confirmed the presence of 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE), a known constituent in hydraulic fracturing fluids, in three wells. According to Theo Colborn, of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, known health effects of 2-BE include elevated numbers of combined malignant and nonmalignant tumors of the adrenal gland, kidney damage, kidney failure, liver cancer, and toxicity to the spleen and bones, among other things.

However, the oil and gas industry dismisses the allegations as overblown and an attempt to derail the responsible development of oil and gas resources. Chris Tucker, of the industry group Energy in Depth, commented, “What we’re seeing is a classic ends-justify-the-means approach to halting sensible energy exploration. Did EPA say that drinking water was contaminated? No. Did it say that fracturing technology was to blame for any contamination? No. Did it say that energy development in the area contributed in any way to the outcome of its first round of tests? No. But those claims are just the means. As long as the end – no energy, no jobs – is achieved, the method can apparently be forgiven.”

Jennifer Goldman, of the Durango-based Oil and Gas Accountability Project, disagreed and charged that the chemicals used in fracing should be disclosed and that the process could be poisoning drinking water all over the country. “Citizens throughout the country have been reporting changes in their water wells’ quality and quantity after nearby hydraulic fracturing operations for years and voicing concerns about both short- and long-term health effects,” she said.

The concerns have also come to the fore in La Plata County. Wally White, of the La Plata County Board of Commissioners, has long advocated full disclosure of fracing chemicals to safeguard public safety.

“I’ve tried to get my fellow commissioners to recognize that we don’t have to cater to industry, and we should pay attention to citizens and their welfare,” White said. “The longer we drag our feet, the more potential there is for damage to human health and our fragile water surveys. If we lose our water supply here, this community is screwed.”

With this in mind, White encouraged passage of the FRAC Act, a bill currently making its way through the U.S. Legislature. The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act would repeal a Safe Drinking Water Act exemption provided for the oil and gas industry. It would also require oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes. “Full disclosure will enable us to answer some difficult questions,” Colborn concluded. “We’re not trying to get rid of drilling. We’re just trying to look at the big picture.”


Breast Care Center breaks ground

The new Mercy Regional Breast Care Center is now under construction and expected to be complete by the end of October. All funding for the project, including construction, equipment, furniture and artwork, was raised through Mercy Health Foundation’s $3.4 million “Yes Ma’am” campaign, which the local community has strongly supported.

“One hundred percent of the funding for the new breast care center came from Yes Ma’am campaign contributions,” said Karen Midkiff, Mercy Health Foundation’s chief development officer. “We are honored and so very thankful for the support. Clearly, people are very passionate about this cause.”

The campaign has been supported by local clubs and civic organizations, sports teams, artists, professional athletes, events, private businesses, and individuals of all ages.  “One little boy even gave the contents of his piggy bank,” said Midkiff.

The center will feature state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment including a digital mammography machine, ultrasound equipment, and a stereotactic breast biopsy system.  Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a breast tissue staining system that helps identify types of breast cancer are also available to patients as needed. “Our vision is to provide patient-focused, compassionate care using state-of-the-art technology,” said Director of Diagnostic Imaging Dennis Soappman. “There are currently no others centers like it in the Four Corners region.”


Durango gymnasts shake up states

Local gymnasts out-tumbled athletes from all over Colorado recently. The City of Durango’s Parks and Recreation gymnastics team “Durango Gymnastics” grabbed gold, silver and bronze during the Colorado State Championships.

The road to the championships began in mid-July at the regional competition. Every one of Durango Gymnastics’ 19 competitors qualified for an event, a first time for the local squad. Once there, Durango’s athletes scored podium spots in every single event. Gold medal finishers included: Brett Rowland, Miranda Talbot, Grace Stroud, Grace Wolf-Cartier, Marissa Evans-Looney, Olivia Gettman, Sarah Lawton, Stephanie Walker and Jaimie Yagunich.  

Sixteen members of the girls’ gymnastics team also earned qualifying positions for the State Championship, which recently met in Aurora. Again, the local athletes took medals on the bars, beam, floor exercise, vault and all-around. Eleven gold, eight silver and five bronze medals now decorate the walls of the gymnastics facility at the Mason Center.

RaeLynn Nargi, supervisor of Durango Gymnastics, commented, “I am overjoyed that everyone’s hard work has paid off this year. They worked so hard all year long and really got to shine at regionals and states. It’s exciting to see that Durango’s got what it takes to compete with big-name gyms on the Front Range.”


Udall to hold Town Hall in Durango

The recent drama of the Town Hall meetings may come to Durango this week. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall will hold a local town hall this Thurs., Aug. 27. The open event will discuss how efforts to expand the use of clean energy can create jobs, and boost the economy in Southwest Colorado. The event gets under way at 1 p.m. in the La Plata County Courthouse’s Anasazi Room.

Udall will hold two other events in the region.  In the morning, he will visit the Three Springs development to discuss how an emphasis on smart growth and clean energy is boosting business and the local economy. 

Later in the afternoon, Udall will visit a health clinic in Mancos to discuss a bill he has introduced to increase the number of doctors practicing in rural communities.

– Will Sands