For almost a decade residents of Pavillion have complained about contaminated water. They say it smells like gas and sometimes is black. Some complain of negative reactions to the water, such as nervous system disorders. In a recent study the Environmental Protection Agency found compounds that cause cancer in a monitoring well. One compound they found is used in hydrologic fracturing, or fracking, the process to release natural gas sealed deep underground. Even with that finding, Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis says it’s premature to blame the oil and gas industry.
“I think we need a better understanding of what caused it,” Lummis said.
Lummis says there are a lot of theories floating around over who’s the culprit. She says the industry and environmentalists all are chiming in with opinions.
“Some say it could be legacy oil and gas wells, some say it could be inadequately cased water wells, some say it could be new oil and gas development. Nobody knows,” Lummis said.
Local residents have a different take on the dirty water. Deb Thomas is a spokesperson with the environmental advocacy group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens where she’s seen the contaminated water disrupt the small community.
“It’s very difficult to live there right now. They have been told not to drink their water or use their water for cooking. There’s high levels of methane in that water, and so ATSDR has recommended that they vent everything, their homes and their well housing,” Thomas said.
By finding a compound used in fracking in one of Pavillion’s wells Thomas says the EPA confirmed a suspicion many locals have held for years.
“So my personal feelings is it’s definitely related to oil and gas development,” Thomas said.
With the jury still out over what exactly is contaminating Pavillion’s water I asked Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso if the EPA finding gave him any pause in helping push the GOP agenda to unwind water and air standards.
“We have plenty of time to discuss policy in the future, so we’ve got to get answers about the current problem and then discuss the next steps,” Barrasso said.
Many environmentalists want to see fracking banned or to have Congress apply much more stringent regulations on the industry. Instead, the debate in the Republican controlled House this session of Congress has focused on unwinding environmental regulations. The House has taken more than one hundred votes this year to undo environmental protections. Anna Aurillio of Environment America Aurllio says those votes are unprecedented.
“I think it’s safe to say this Congress is the worst Congress ever when it comes to the environment. These guys are on a jihad against clean air and clean water. And I feel quite confident people did not elect these people to result in more air pollution, more water pollution and destruction of the beautiful places we all love,” according to Aurillio.
Wyoming Republican Senator Mike Enzi says the environmental community is just latching on to Pavillion’s water problems to drive its agenda.
“We’ve been fracking throughout the west for years and this is the closest they can come to showing any kind of a problem and they can’t directly relate it to fracking. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen that way, but those wells are pretty deep wells and to have it come into the other wells – there might be some other source of the problem,” Enzi said.
Lummis says Pavillion’s water problems predated this GOP controlled House. She says she’s seen no evidence that Republicans should pull back on efforts to unwind federal regulations and cut the EPA’s budget further.
“It is inaccurate to finger the Republican Congress that’s trying to grow this economy and save jobs as somehow tied to water quality in Pavilion,” according to Lummis.
With Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House most of the House passed bills to pull back regulations haven’t come up in the Senate. That could change if there’s another major reshuffling of Congress and the White House in 2012.
This story first aired on Wyoming Public Radio.