In 2006, a natural gas well outside Yellowstone Nation Park had a blowout, causing a forced evacuation for miles around and polluting the drinking water supply as well. No one knows why the blowout occurred, but Windsor Energy now wants to drill a new well less than a mile away inside Shoshone National Forest.
BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore blowout and oil spill garnered media attention for months in 2010, but onshore blowouts occur far more frequently. Most of these onshore blowouts take place at gas wells, releasing toxic gas, spilling oil and drilling fluid, and creating plumes of pollution in the groundwater. Onshore blowouts are not tracked by the federal government; this responsibility falls to the states. Texas has had almost 100 blowouts since 2006, and Louisiana has also approached 100 blowouts in the last 13 years, one of which killed a worker in late 2009.
There are a variety of causes of onshore blowouts, none any less damaging than the others. Many states issue fines to the companies responsible for the blowouts, some as low as $3,000 to $5,000. This comes as cold comfort to the residents who have had to evacuate their homes and may have to live with the lasting effects of the toxic contamination from these blowouts.
Benzene is one toxic substance commonly found in drilling fluid; it is a known carcinogen that has been linked to leukemia and a variety of short-term health effects. Benzene contamination was discovered at a residential well near the location of the Windsor blowout in Wyoming. Windsor paid to put a filter on the well, but residents were still exposed to the toxin before it was in place. Even if their exposure does not result in cancer down the line, homeowners will find it very difficult to sell their houses now that the groundwater pollution is public knowledge.
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