The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it has found high levels of benzene and other chemicals in the latest groundwater samples from a community within a gas field.

A variety of chemicals and high levels of methane turned up in two wells drilled specifically to test for pollution in the central Wyoming community of Pavillion.

The carcinogen benzene measured as high as 50 times the EPA limit, according to a report released at an EPA public meeting Wednesday night in Pavillion.

Elevated levels of diesel- and gasoline-grade organic compounds also were found.

Meanwhile, the EPA has sampled 42 domestic water wells to date, finding methane in 10 wells and a chemical called 2-butoxyethanol phosphate in nine.

The EPA told the 50 or so attendees at the meeting that people with polluted water should not use it for cooking and drinking and should ventilate their bathrooms while bathing or showering. The warning also was issued in Pavillion last year.

Residents complain of health problems and say their well water reeks of chemicals — issues they say emerged with increased gas drilling from the late 1990s through about 2006. Environmentalists blame the gas industry for the pollution.

They speculate that hydraulic fracturing — a process that involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to crack open fissures and improve the flow of gas — may have caused the problems by opening up new underground pathways for pollution.

"Whether it's going along natural fractures or those fractures have been expanded or facilitated by the drilling and hydraulic fracturing out there, we don't really know," said Steve Jones with the Wyoming Outdoor Council.

He said the presence of 2-butoxyethanol phosphate could indicate a link to hydraulic fracturing because fracking fluid can contain 2-butoxyethanol.

Calgary, Alberta-based Encana is in the process of selling the gas field to Midland, Texas-based Legacy Reserves for $45 million. Encana officials say the pollution is naturally occurring and they are committed to cleaning up any pollution for which they may be held responsible.

A message left with Legacy Reserves wasn't immediately returned Thursday.

So far the EPA isn't speculating about where the pollution originated but plans to release a summary of findings later this month.


"Our scientists are continuing to complete their analysis of those data and we are working hard to complete a report interpreting the findings in the near future," EPA spokesman Matthew Allen said in a statement Thursday.


John Fenton, with the group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, said he's looking forward to reading the next EPA report.


"They didn't give any conclusions but they did say definitely this is a plume and they need to find out where it's coming from. That's going to be the difficult part, sounds like," he said.


State officials, including the director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, also attended the meeting.


"We need more time to kind of look at this report and look at those findings," said department spokesman Keith Guille. "Certainly we know the EPA has worked very hard on this and certainly it was really important to have that meeting."


One of the biggest challenges with the Pavillion pollution is nobody did any testing years ago to document the history of chemicals in the groundwater, Guille said.


"It does make it difficult to track down what's actually been the issue here," he said.