Pavillion, Wyoming — population 231 — has become the epicentre of the fracking debate.In December, EPA tests revealed the presence of “synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels.”
More recently, the agency announced new USGS test results were consistent with its December results that fracking likely contaminated groundwater there.
Encana, the company behind the fracking in Pavillion, has said the tests contain flaws.
But for residents in the area, it’s all a bunch of noise.
“I think it’s all a money game,” Jana Peterson, who manages the Buckaroo Bar on centre Street, told us by phone recently. “If people want to get an outrageous amount of money for their farms…the squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
“This community, for 50 years or more, it’s always had shi**y water.”
It does appear the individuals who’ve complained to regulators are relatively few in number. The site of the contamination is actually a few miles outside downtown Pavillion, near a handful of farms and ranches.
Louis Meeks has lived on 50 acres outside Pavillion for 37 years.
In 2005, Encana completed a gas well near Meeks’ property.
Ever since then, Meeks says, his water’s tasted funny.
“It smells like diesel or kerosene,” he said. “I don’t drink it — it’ll just clear your sinuses it smells so bad. Lotta times get yellowish brown there, leaves a skin on dishes too.”
Meeks has become one of the principal antagonists who’s made Pavillion ground zero in the fight over whether fracking can contaminate water supplies, appearing in the anti-fracking movie “Gasland” and lobbying state and federal regulators to keep testing his water supplies.
But like Peterson, many in the area wish the whole thing would go away.
Debbie Clymer has lived in the area for more than 20 years, and agrees that the water in the area was never that great to begin with.
“There’s a lot of gas and oil underground anyway, it’s always been that way,” she told us from Buckaroo’s. “Now they’re bringing it to everybody’s attention, and I think it’s only a few people out here.”
She added she’s concerned fears about water quality will lower property values in the area.
“People are afraid,” she said. “Our water is not perfect. I don’t know, we just accept it, it’s not poison.”
Encana, among oil companies, has a substantial presence in the area, employing 67 people out of its Riverton office just a few miles from Pavillion and also employs numerous local contractors.
Fremont County, where Pavillion sits, gets two-thirds of its revenue from oil and gas production.
As a result, there’s pressure to maintain the status quo.
“It may have a smell to it, a taste to it, but by EPA standards meets the standard for human consumption,” says Dennis Christensen, a farmer and former Fremont County commissioner who lives in Riverton. “There are a lot of areas where that’s absolutely the case.”