(EnergyAsia, December 14 2011, Wednesday) — In a report confirming the complaints of environmental and farming groups, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it found toxic chemicals used in producing natural gas through the hydraulic fracturing process in drinking water in Wyoming state.

The agency said its draft analysis of data obtained from an underground aquifer in Pavillion town, 370 km northeast of Salt Lake City, “found compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.”

Its repeat tests of private and public drinking water wells in the community also uncovered the presence of synthetic chemicals such as glycols and alcohols identified in earlier EPA results released in 2010 that “are generally below established health and safety standards.” It also found hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above the US Safe Drinking Water Act standards, and high methane levels in the water.

The samples were taken from two deep water-monitoring wells near a gas field owned and operated by Canada’s Encana.

The agency said it has been investigating the town’s water quality at the request of residents over the last three years.

Together with Wyoming state officials, the local community, and Canada’s Encana, the EPA said it has been working to assess ground water quality and to identify potential sources of contamination.

To ensure a transparent and rigorous analysis, the agency said it is releasing its findings for public comment and will submit them to an independent scientific review panel. It made clear that the draft findings are specific to Pavillion, where the fracturing is taking place in and below the drinking water aquifer and in close proximity to drinking water wells – production conditions different from those in many other areas of the country.

As part of their energy security policies, the US and many countries around the world are looking to increase extraction of vast amounts of natural gas trapped in unconventional sources buried deep in rock formations. Hydraulic fracturing, the main technology available, requires injecting water and chemicals into the formations to release the trapped gas.

Today, the US obtains about a third of its natural gas from fracking.

While acknowledging the country’s growing dependence on fracked gas, the EPA said the Obama Administration will ensure “that the development of this vital resource occurs safely and responsibly. At the direction of Congress, and separate from this ground water investigation, EPA has begun a national study on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.”

Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver, said its “highest priority remains ensuring that Pavillion residents have access to safe drinking water.”

The 121-page report has galvanised the growing anti-fracking movement around the world which has been calling for tougher regulations as well as outright bans on its use to extract natural gas.

Fracking supporters which include ExxonMobil and Shell as well as China’s state-owned companies are banking on increasing natural gas production from unconventional sources to drive future growth and reduce their dependence on oil, which is owned largely by politically unstable countries in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

In an editorial for the Wall Street Journal on December 12, energy scholar Daniel Yergin hailed the new technology of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling for dramatically increasing the US production of oil and gas.