Laramie, Wyo. – Nine industrial wells in the Pinedale area showed such potentially dangerous levels of gas contamination that workers were unable to carry out tests on the water.
That's according to members of a water quality task group that met this week. Member Leslie Schwabacher says the gas industry and the Bureau of Land Management are trying to find a way to safely test these wells for toxic hydrocarbons.
"But at this point it is unsafe for a person to go up to the well and send equipment down because that could cause a spark and actually set off an explosion," she says.
Another member of the group, Michael Kramer, says gas companies have two options. They can install a pump to test the water from a distance, or inject other gases into the well in order to flush out the harmful elements.
Kramer, a doctor, says it's impossible to know if the water was contaminated without conducting a test.
Meanwhile,Schwabacher says the problem with water contamination in the area has reached a perfect bureaucratic storm.
Schwabacher is new to the group that makes recommendations to the Bureau of Land Management on water quality issues, but she says working within the system, which includes Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality, can be frustrating.
"You have a collision of different government agencies," she says. "The DEQ cannot act until there is a problem, and then you have the BLM which is advising the gas companies but not taking a position of authority."
Schwabacher is a rancher with cattle near the area where toxic hydrocarbons were recently found in a livestock well.
She says members of the public have not paid very much attention to the issue, and Schwabacher says the task force ultimately has little influence over the BLM's decisions.