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Researcher: Tracers Could Clear Up Fracking Controversy

May 7, 2012

PAVILLION, Wyo. - The best way to find the "smoking gun" is to follow the smoke to the tip of the barrel. A hydrologist makes that point after being hired by environmental groups to review the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation that suggests a connection between hydraulic fracturing and groundwater contamination near Pavillion.

Tom Myers found the EPA's science to be sound, but has several recommendations. One is to put a tracer in fracking fluids to show a clear connection, or no connection, to pollution.

"You find that in a well and it's saying that is the only possibility. There's no arguing over attenuation, and there's no arguing over whether there were chemical reactions and what not."

He also recommends the EPA drill more test wells in the area.

One complication is how long it might take fracking fluids to move upward. Myers says that depends on geology, and there's variability in the region. It's even possible that water contamination being discovered now could be connected to gas production decades ago, he adds.

"If the contamination reaching the domestic wells was introduced into the aquifer 40 years ago, but we've installed 169 wells over that 40-year period, it suggests that there could be a lot more, eventually, working its way up."

Myers has talked with families affected by contaminated water supplies. He says their concerns should be taken more seriously by the state, the EPA and drilling companies.

"I note the fact that a lot of people come out and say their water is contaminated and that they smell it. That just doesn't happen. They're not making it up, is the point."

He adds that many chemicals used in fracking are odorless and tasteless, so unless regular testing is taking place, no one would know they were being exposed.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY