Environmental Protection

Wyoming Group: Drilling Contamination Puts Water at Risk

According to Clark Resource Council, a citizens' environmental group, Windsor Energy Group, LLC recently put its assets up for bid and has explained, at a recent public meeting, that the benzene contamination created by a gas well blowout three years ago has exceeded regulatory levels in a nearby creek. The council is concerned that the company may declare bankruptcy and discontinue work on the cleanup.

Deb Thomas, local resident and organizer for the council, said: "Before the first operators of this project bankrupted, we were told that drilling was safe and no toxic chemicals were used. Since Windsor bought the development, we've had years of leaking waste pits, illegal dumping of drilling fluids, inadequate engineering, and finally, the blow out, which left us with contaminated drinking water aquifers. Windsor said the contamination plume wouldn't move into private water wells or jump the creek, and it did both. Now we fear that Windsor will join their predecessors by bankrupting and simply walk away from their mess."

Windsor Energy Group's Crosby 25-3 gas well blew out in the small community of Clark, Wyo., in 2006. The blowout resulted in a 10-million-cubic-foot plume of groundwater contamination.

The plume has contaminated drinking water aquifers, two private water wells and natural springs with benzene, diesel range organics, and an extensive list of toxic chemicals, the council said. As much as 300,000 gallons of contaminated water has dumped daily into the Line Creek drainage, which then flows into the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone River.

Windsor Energy had been corresponding with Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality in January to develop a remediation plan.

Clark Resource Council, Powder River Basin Resource Council and Earthworks' Oil and Gas Accountability Project emphasize that the experience in Clark shows that state agencies are not adequately equipped to address the impacts and risks associated with drilling projects.

"I want other communities who are facing development to understand that they're at risk from the oil and gas industry's cavalier regard for the environment and human health, " said resident Dick Bilodeau. "When oil and gas companies screw up, the results are neither simple nor cheap to clean up. We need adequate federal oversight to protect areas under development, and complete disclosure so that impacted people can determine what health problems they're facing now and will be in the future."

In Wyoming, the state's Voluntary Remediation Program allows polluters to remediate contamination and then be released from liability. With Windsor Energy Group's bankruptcy looming, Bilodeau and other community members fear that the extent of the contamination will never be adequately assessed and cleanup will never happen.

Bruce Baizel, staff attorney for Earthworks' Oil & Gas Accountability Project, said this project and others "clearly show the urgent need for incremental federal regulation, like the FRAC Act now before Congress, and they also show that the FRAC Act only begins to address the need for stronger oversight."

The Clark Resource Council was formed in 2004 in response to threats to the area from the gas and oil industry. It is an affiliate of Powder River Basin Resource Council. According to its Web site, the Clark Resource Council's goal is to alert citizens of any threats to the natural treasures of the Eastern Front of the Beartooth Mountains. We are dedicated to preserving the natural splendor, wildlife, recreational opportunities and quality of life on the Beartooth Front.

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