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Stanford University Study Finds Fracking Harmed Wyoming Drinking Water

PALO ALTO (CBS SF) -- Stanford University researchers released a new study stating that practices common in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, industry have impacted a Wyoming community's drinking water and may be impacting other drinking water sources.

The study, based on publicly available records and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, was published in Environmental Science & Technology.

The authors of the study found that fracking operations near Pavillion, Wyoming have impacted underground sources of drinking water caused by the industry practice of dumping drilling and production fluids containing diesel fuel and chemical concentrations into unlined pits lacking cement barriers. Without adequate barriers the chemicals threaten groundwater.

Fracking operators have used treatments in the area at the same depths as water wells.

Dominic DiGiulio, a visiting scholar at Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and the lead author of the study, said that while it is "perfectly legal" to inject stimulation fluids into underground drinking water resources, this practice may be causing widespread impacts on drinking water.

Co-author Rob Jackson, the Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, said the frackwater, or produced water, created by drilling companies using proprietary blends of chemicals can include potentially dangerous ingredients such as benzene and xylene.

In 2008, the residents of Pavillion complained of a foul taste and odor in their drinking water and in 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a preliminary report, that linked shallow fracking to toxic compounds in aquifers.

The EPA then turned its investigation over to the State of Wyoming, and as of last month, the state has said it has no firm plans to take further action, the authors said.

"The EPA has consistently walked away from investigations where people and the environment appear to have been harmed" by fracking's impact on groundwater, according to Jackson.

But the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry advised residents in that area to avoid bathing, cooking or drinking with water from their taps.

The Stanford study picks up where federal and state agencies left off, documenting the occurrence of fracking chemicals in underground sources of drinking water.

"Geologic and groundwater conditions at Pavillion are not unique in the Rocky Mountain region," said DiGiulio. "This suggests there may be widespread impact to underground sources of drinking water as a result of unconventional oil and gas extraction."

The authors are suggesting further regulations to limit shallow fracking and require protective casings.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.

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