Hydrocarbons found in 85 Jonah/Pinedale Anticline water wells
3 of the 85 have Benzene Hydrocarbon levels above allowable WY DEQ levels
by Dawn Ballou, Editor, Pinedale Online!
April 26, 2007
On Thursday, April 26th, the Bureau of Land Management issued a news release to make the public aware that water quality testing of a number of industrial water wells in the Pinedale Anticline and Jonah natural gas field tested positive for the presence of Hydrocarbons, in particular benzene, Toluene, and Zylenes, in testing done in 2006 and 2007.
(Story update 4/28/07: In an online article by Whitney Royster of the Jackson Hole Star-Tribune, a BLM representative said the contamination source is believed to be from trucks used to siphon water out of the wells. Also, when Royster talked with John Wagner, water quality administrator with the Department of Environmental Quality, 'Wagner said it is likely there are farmers and ranchers tapped into the same aquifer'. Pinedale Online Editor's comment: To date, no one knows how the aquifers are interconnected underground horizontally or vertically, or the extent of spread that is possible should contamination occur at one location over to others. Apparently no water quality testing is done or required on new industrial water wells at the time they are dug in order to establish a baseline for water quality data for BLM, DEQ or operators to work with as a comparison for future water quality test results.)
Below is a news release from the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday, April 26, 2007:
BLM Press Release
Recent detection of Hydrocarbons in water wells used for industrial purposes within the Jonah and Anticline gas fields has led to additional testing. This is a direct result of the joint and cooperative effort between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ).
The 2000 Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA) Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Record of Decision (ROD) requires that oil and gas operators in the PAPA sample water wells within one mile of any exploration and/or production well. As a result of this sampling, hydrocarbon contamination was identified in four industrial water supply wells in August and September, 2006.
The impacted water supply wells were operated without the use of back flow preventers or check valves to prevent hydrocarbon contaminated water from siphoning back into the wells.
Because of concerns that more wells may have been similarly impacted, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) requested in October, 2006, that all operators in the PAPA and in the Jonah field sample all of their water supply wells for hydrocarbons.
With the cooperation of all operators, approximately 163 water wells were put through a rigorous sampling program in response to this request. Results of the sampling have indicated that three wells have detections of hydrocarbons, namely benzene, above the allowable level set by the WDEQ. Owners of the contaminated wells have joined the WDEQ’s Voluntary Remediation Program and are currently working toward investigation and remediation of all contaminated groundwater.
Approximately 82 additional wells also had detections of hydrocarbons, but below regulatory levels. A few of these wells are being re-sampled to confirm that the hydrocarbon contamination concentrations are below standards. There are a number of potential causes of the contamination, including natural sources that are being thoroughly investigated.
“We were notified by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) of these findings. We, along with the WDEQ and industry will work to resolve this situation,” said Merry Gamper, Supervisory Natural Resource Specialist with the Pinedale BLM.
The BLM and the WDEQ will be working together with operators to develop and implement a comprehensive water well construction and operation program. In addition, the BLM and the WDEQ will be scheduling a meeting with all of the operators in the near future to review and discuss these findings and the types of preventative measures necessary to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future.
For more information, contact Merry Gamper in the Pinedale BLM Office at (307) 367-5313 or Mark Thiesse in the Lander WDEQ office at (307) 335-6959 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
END PRESS RELEASE
ADDITIONAL FOLLOW-UP INFORMATION
Pinedale Online called representatives from the Bureau of Land Management, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, and Sublette County Conservation District to find out more information. Below is what we were told on Thursday.
Since July of 2001, the Sublette County Conservation District (SCCD) has been doing water testing and inventorying all water wells within one mile of an existing or proposed gas well within the Pinedale Anticline Project Area (PAPA) south of Pinedale. In a report given to the BLM in November 2006, they reported having collected about 500 ground water samples from about 180 water wells around the PAPA. Some of the wells tested were being tested for the second time. They found four wells out of the 180 tested that detected the presence of Petroleum Hydrocarbons. The test results are in a November 15, 2006 report of Pinedale Anticline Ground Water Data by SCCD Ground Water Quality Specialist Carrie Hatch.
Additional well testing begun
Those findings prompted the BLM and Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WYDEQ) to ask operators in the PAPA and Jonah Field to do more extensive water quality testing of all their industrial water wells in operation.
Out of 163 wells tested between October, 2006, and March 2007, three industrial water wells had levels of benzene that were higher than the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 5 parts per billion. The three wells in question are operated by Shell, Ultra and BP.
In addition to the three contaminated wells, testing revealed 82 additional wells that showed the presence of hydrocarbons in the water, but at below DEQ regulatory levels. Those wells are still within DEQ compliance, even with the elevated Hydrocarbon readings.
All of the wells affected are industrial water wells. The DEQ 5 ppb MCL is a drinking water quality standard. None of the contaminated wells are potable water sources used for human or animal consumption. There is no discharge of contaminated water on the surface. The water from the three contaminated wells is being piped into storage tanks and then into trucks, which then dispose of the contaminated water according to regulations.
Comments from the BLM
According to Merry Gamper with the Pinedale BLM Field Office, all three of the wells that tested over DEQ maximum levels for benzene are now "locked down" with only designated people having access to the wells. The BLM, WYDEQ and operators are working together to do more testing to try and determine where the contamination occurred and to correct the problem in their operations to eliminate the contamination. It is believed that the impacted wells may have been contaminated because back flow preventers or check valves were not in place to prevent contaminated water from siphoning back into the wells. Back flow preventers are not currently required on industrial water wells, but industry is voluntarily installing them.
Rey Adame, Public Affairs Officer with the BLM, emphasized that their press release was just to let the public know of the latest results and they did not feel there was any cause for alarm. "There is no threat to rig workers, domestic water sources, or wildlife at this point," he told us.
All the wells are being tested and retested. The 82 wells that detected the presence of Hydrocarbons are still within acceptable levels of DEQ standards and are in compliance with DEQ regulations. Most of the wells that tested positive are in the Pinedale Anticline and a few are in the Jonah Field, Adame said.
The operators and BLM do not collect water samples or run water quality tests on these wells when they are initially drilled in order to obtain baseline, pre-drilling water quality data for each well.
Comments from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality
Mark Thiesse, of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality in Lander, also gave us more information on these findings. He emphasized that the three wells are above DEQ standards for drinking water, however none of these wells are being used for drinking water purposes. His concern was not the three contaminated wells, but rather the 83 other wells that tested positive for low levels of Hydrocarbons. Their objective now is to work with the operators to try and pinpoint where they Hydrocarbons are coming from and to implement "Best Management Practices" in the process to eliminate steps that might be causing the contamination. The WY DEQ, BLM and operators will be meeting some time in May to discuss the well drilling process and completion techniques to try and isolate steps that might be the source of the contamination and prevent future occurrences.
Thiesse said the BLM, WY DEQ and operators have been working on steps to prevent future contamination since October of 2006. Contaminated wells have been pumped multiple times to draw out the contaminated water and then flushed and retested. Operators are cooperating with a voluntary remediation program. He said they feel there is very little risk to wildlife, workers or for spillage of water on the ground. Industrial water wells have steel and concrete casings in place during the drilling process intended to seal off shallower aquifers from the water being brought up for industrial purposes, to prevent cross contamination in the well.
"We are concerned there are that many detections, but we don't believe there is a significant health risk to the public at this time," Thiesse said.
Thiesse, who is also on the PAWG Water Quality Task Group, an advisory group to the BLM on natural gas drilling operation impacts, said they have been pushing the BLM to get funding for a study to do confirmation water sampling to get a better understanding on how water zones and aquifers at various depths might be interconnected, resulting in mixing of water between zones when wells perforate them in the drilling process. No funding has yet been given for this aquifer study, although Thiesse added that it would likely be a very difficult and expensive project to do.
Thiesse added that the three contaminated wells are in a clean-up program and are being carefully monitored and retested. While it has been suggested that the hydrocarbon contamination might be coming from natural sources in the ground layers, Thiesse was not ready to accept that argument because the test results were too specific on individual contaminants, rather than the broad spectrum of compounds, or high concentration levels that typically are seen from naturally-occurring contact with crude oil or condensate.
Benzene is a chemical that is used as a solvent in a variety of uses including paints, printing, dry cleaning and in lubricants. It is also used as a building block in the making of plastics, rubber, resins and synthetic fabrics. It is a known cancer-causing chemical. With long-term exposure it can cause leukemia of the blood, chromosome aberrations and cancer. Under short-term exposure, it can cause temporary nervous system disorders, immunde system depression and anemia. It is not likely to accumulate in aquatic organisms, and evaporates very quickly when released to soil or leached to groundwater. If it is tested in public drinking water supplies at levels above the MCL of 5 ppb, DEQ regulations require the public be notified of the health risk via newspapers, radio, TV and other means to make them aware of the contamination.
Rey Adame, Public Affairs Officer, BLM, Rock Springs, Pinedale and Kemmerer Field Offices
307-352-0399 or email@example.com
Merry Gamper, Pinedale BLM, 307-367-5313
Mark Thiesse, Wyoming DEQ (Lander office), 307-335-6959, firstname.lastname@example.org.