Breaking: Carlile Wells Run Dry, Become Acidic

Kevin Frederick, with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, spoke to about 40 residents in Moorcroft over the problems with private wells.

Kevin Frederick, with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, spoke to about 40 residents in Moorcroft today.

(Moorcroft, Wyo.) The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality today held a meeting in Moorcroft in the hopes of gathering more information and data on what could be causing problems with private water wells in the area running dry and becoming acidic.

Michael Cranston, a resident of the area, was among the approximately 40 people who attended today’s meeting.

He said in July he noticed silt coming from his well water, and it was pumping slower. Within a day it went dry. Cranston said four houses around the area are experiencing the same problems.

The department became involved in August when they received phone calls from landowners in the area with wells running dry. These landowners, who are located about 20 miles northeast of Moorcroft in Carlile, then hired a private consultant who produced a report that was sent to the DEQ on Sept. 11.

It’s unclear if Cranston’s well was among those the consultant tested.

What the department read in the report suggested the situation needed some further investigation.

“That raised some concern,” said Keith Guille, public information officer with the DEQ.

Limited information

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The purpose of today’s meeting was to survey area residents to determine the extent of the problems and receive permission from landowners to do further testing of the wells.

Department representatives tried to answer questions, but at this point, information is limited.

“We need some additional data to know what the current conditions are,” Kevin Frederick, administrator with the Water Quality Division of the DEQ, explained at the meeting.

Currently, Frederick said there are a number of possible causes for the problems. One possible source is the wells drilled for Gillette Madison Pipeline Project. It may be related to the casing of the wellbore.

Representatives from the DEQ are meeting with city officials tomorrow to discuss what is known and how to proceed.

Geno Palazzari, public information officer with the City of Gillette, said he could not speak on the issues until after the city has had a chance to hear what information the DEQ has at this point.

Frederick stressed that the city’s water supply project was one of a number of possible causes, and there’s no way to know at this point which are more likely.

Just as likely, based on what is known, is that natural faults or fractures are causing crossflow between aquifers. Abandoned oil and gas wells may be a source of the acid levels in the water.

He said it’s unlikely any current oil and gas activity would be causing the problems.

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“We simply don’t know,” Frederick told the Moorcroft area residents.

Possible health risks

Among the information Frederick said the department is seeking if any residents have seen any dumping or if they have knowledge of any chemical storage facilities in the area.

Besides running dry, the wells have been dropping in pH level, which means the water is becoming acidic.

A neutral pH level is 7, and drinking water from the tap is typically between 6.5 and 8. Levels of 5.5 and 6 are considered safe for livestock and irrigation.

The samples the department has seen from from the Moorcroft wells showed levels of 3.3 to 4.5.

Some residents raised some questions about what possible health effects could stem from drinking the water.

Frederick said water of a low pH level has an unpleasant taste. In a worst-case scenario, however, it could have health effects, he explained.

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“Obviously, there’s going to be irritation to the stomach lining. … Long term consumption can cause some serious health problems,” Frederick said.

Lilly Lee, groundwater protection project manager, clarified that the pH levels by themselves have no definite health impacts, aside from eating away tooth enamel.

Bottled water, she said, depending on brand and other factors, can have a pH level of 4.5 to 7.5. Diet Coke is around 3.2, and Pepsi can be as low as 2.5. Without sugar and flavoring, the colas would be very unpleasant, Lee explained.

“If it were plain water, it wouldn’t taste very good,” she said.

That’s been the case with the water at Jay Moore’s well. While his well hasn’t run dry, he said about six months ago the water began to take on an unpleasant taste. Other people in the area, he said, have greater problems with their wells.

“We have neighbors who have no water,” Moore said.

The concern about pH levels is the possibility contaminants are causing the water to be acidic. The department, Frederick said, would be testing for a variety of chemicals and elements–such as calcium, magnesium, and boron–to determine the potential health hazards of the area water.

Solutions and answers

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Some residents wanted to know what the options would be if the problem cannot be fixed. Frederick suggested drilling their wells deeper would allow them to produce water, but the residents pointed out this would be an expensive solution.

Moorcroft officials voted against joining the Gillette Regional Water Supply Project, so they will not have the option of tapping into Gillette’s water supply.

Frederick said that it could take four to six weeks minimum to collect, test, and analyze water samples in the area in order to develop a clearer picture of the cause and extent of the problem. At that time, the department will hold another meeting.

For now, there’s very little information to be had.

“We need more information. We need more data,” Frederick said.

Originally from New Mexico, Killough began his career writing freelance for a weekly magazine in Albuquerque while completing his undergraduate degree. In addition to reporting on uranium mining in western New Mexico, he spent three years reporting in western North Dakota during the height of the oil boom. He can be reached at or 701-641-6603.