Niobrara Shale Development
Water Quality Questions and Answers
Water Quality Division/
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality
Question: I am concerned that
drilling for oil and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is going to cause
contamination of my drinking water well. Is my concern justified?
Answer: If done correctly and in
accordance with the requirements of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission (WOGCC),
oil and gas drilling and fracking should not cause contamination of your well.
While no one can guarantee that an accident
or equipment failure will not occur, the Niobrara Shale play is an extremely
high profile development and both the industry and regulatory agencies are
watching the development carefully to insure environmental protection
requirements are being met.
It should be noted that fracking has been a
common practice in the oil & gas industry for many decades. It is fracking of
shale formations which is a relatively new development.
Question: Media reports suggest that
fracking has caused water well contamination in Pinedale and Pavillion Wyoming.
Why will the Niobrara Shale development be any different?
Answer: There is no evidence that
fracking has caused any water quality problems in Wyoming.
In Pinedale contamination of some shallow
industrial water supply wells was probably caused by lack of backflow prevention
on vacuum trucks using the wells.
In Pavillion, oil and gas development has
been on-going for about 50 years. While the exact source of pollutants in some
residents‟ wells near Pavillion has not been established, a working group will
be looking at older pit closures and oil & gas well drilling procedures.
It should be noted that in both Pavillion
and Pinedale, domestic water wells have been drilled into shallow intervals
containing natural gas.
Question: Do you know what is in the
Answer: According to the WOGCC,
Niobrara Shale fracking fluid is +80% fresh water, 19% sand, and .07% additives.
Primary additives are sodium chloride for
clay control and a breaker to decrease viscosity.
A surfactant, a gelling agent, a biocide,
and a corrosion inhibitor are also usually used.
One company (SM Energy) is planning to
frack with carbon dioxide.
Newly adopted WOGCC regulations require
operators to provide the Commission with the exact chemical content of their
While the information may be held as
proprietary, if there is ever a question of aquifer contamination, the
Commission will be able to provide DEQ with the chemical composition of the
Question: Where can I get
information on existing ground water quality.
Answer: A table with historic water
quality on 144 wells in Laramie County can be found in Appendix A of the
following document which is
available on the internet
Question: Should I have the water
quality of my well tested before drilling begins?
Answer: Knowing the background
quality of your well could be very valuable information should a question of
contamination ever arise.
Question: Will DEQ sample my well
and analyze the quality of the water in my well?
Answer: Not usually. Since
individual water wells are not “public water supplies” as defined under state
and federal law, DEQ has no regulatory authority or responsibility for such
However, if there is a question of
contamination of the aquifer serving those wells, DEQ does have authority and
responsibility under its pollution control mandate. In such cases DEQ may ask
individual residents for permission to sample their wells.
Question: If DEQ does not normally
analyze the water from individual wells, where can I get that work done?
Answer: Private laboratories as well
as the Wyoming Agriculture Dept. lab in Laramie (307-742-2984) will analyze well
samples for a fee.
Before selecting a lab it may be prudent to
check the laboratory‟s certifications.
Preferred labs are certified by US EPA.
Consult the“Environmental Testing” or “Water Testing” on the internet or those
sections of your local Yellow Pages for a list of laboratories within your area.
Question: If I have my well water
analyzed, what chemicals should it be tested for?
Answer: DEQ has developed two
guidelines that provide additional information on establishing „baseline‟
quality of well water, and suggestions for sampling and testing water wells in
areas of oil and gas development. These guidelines are available on DEQ‟s
Question: I‟ve had my well water
analyzed and one or more of the constituents are in excess of federal drinking
water standards. What should I do?
Answer: Many ground waters in
Wyoming have inorganic chemical constituents which naturally exceed the safe
drinking water levels established by the US EPA.
Minor exceedences of levels for some
constituents are probably not worrisome for most people, exceedences of levels
for 3 other constituents, especially by large amounts, may mean that you should
consider another drinking water source.
DEQ has developed two guidelines that
provide additional information on establishing „baseline‟ quality of well water,
and suggestions for sampling and testing water wells in areas of oil and gas
These guidelines are available on DEQ‟s
Consultation with your physician, your
county health department and/or the Wyoming Health Department is recommended in
You should also inform the DEQ of your
sample results if contamination is found. If the DEQ determines that the
contamination is due to natural causes, it will take no further action.
However, if it appears that the
contamination may be man induced, DEQ will do further investigation into the
Question: How far is it from the
bottom of my water well to the Niobrara formation?
Answer: Most water wells in
Southeast Wyoming are less than seven hundred feet deep. The Niobrara is about
eight thousand feet deep. This means that there is over seven thousand feet of
Question: I am concerned that
surface water and ground water may be contaminated by runoff from the drilling
operations or from spills out of waste ponds or trucks. What assurance do I have
that such pollution sources are under control?
Answer: All construction activities
which disturb more than an acre are required to have storm water pollution
prevention plans in place and DEQ does random checks to insure that this
requirement is met. Trucks do have the potential to spill due to accidents or
carelessness. Diligence on the part of the oil & gas operators and the trucking
companies coupled with a strong enforcement program by the regulatory agencies
is the approach we use to minimize spills.
Question: Can my groundwater be
contaminated by seepage out of waste ponds at the drill rig?
Answer: The WOGCC has liner and
construction requirements for drilling fluid ponds. In addition, for the
Niobrara Shale play, the WOGCC is requiring that fracking fluids be held in
tanks rather than ponds.
Question: What should I do if I
observe a spill that someone has failed to clean up?
Answer: Landowners who observe
spills or other activities that pose a threat to surface or groundwater can
contact DEQ‟s Spill and Complaint hotline at 307-777-7781 or provide information
online at DEQ‟s website (http://deq.state.wy.us/) by clicking on the link “Got a