The amount of carcinogenic agent reportedly found in a water sample from a private well in Le Roy is at a concentration level below legal limits, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The agency also plans to seek its own sample from the well, but it's unclear if the DEC will investigate further, such as trying to determine the source of the possible containment.
The chemical is known as MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether). It has been used as an additive in gasoline and diesel fuel, but was outlawed for such use in New York in 2004.
Bob Bowcock -- a researcher from California who took water samples in Le Roy more than two weeks ago at the behest of environmentalist / lawyer Erin Brockovich -- said Friday that the chemical turned up in a sample from a private well at a residential property.
According to Bowcock, MTBE could be part of any hydrofracking fluid (there are various mixtures) that uses gasoline or diesel fuel.
Fracking was used to open the natural gas wells on the property of the Le Roy Central School District and there are reports that at least one of the wells suffered a leak or spill of fracking fluid.
DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said DEC staff conferred with Bowcock today and concluded that the sample taken by Bowcock had six micrograms per litre, which is below the state's limit of 10 micrograms per litre.
It's also below the federal Environmental Protection Agency's drinking water advisory for MTBE, which is 20 to 40 micrograms per liter, she said.
DeSantis offered no opinion from the DEC on how the MTBE got into the well, which is according to Bowcock, a little less than a mile from the southeastern-most natural gas well on Le Roy school district property.
Yesterday, the DEC -- through spokeswoman DeSantis -- expressed little interest in Bowcock's reported finding. DeSantis maintained that MTBE is not used in fracking fluid and the DEC had no reason to believe the company that fracked the Le Roy school wells used MTBE as part of its mixture.
After being pressed for more information, DeSantis arranged for Bowcock to speak with DEC staff. It was only after further email exchanges with The Batavian that DeSantis confirmed the DEC would conduct its own testing.
Since 2008, companies engaged in fracking gas wells are required to disclose the chemicals used in the process, DeSantis said.
"While the most recently drilled wells on the LeRoy CSD property were permitted prior to this requirement, the well driller informed us of the chemicals used to fracture the wells and MTBE was not used," DeSantis said. "Again, MTBE is not used in hydraulic fracturing."
When told of DeSantis's statement, Bowcock said he was flabbergasted by her response. He said prior to even coming to Le Roy, he had had conversations with DEC staff on other matters about MTBE being in fracking fluid.
While there are numerous environmental websites that say MTBE is contained in fracking fluid, it's harder to locate a neutral source online, even the EPA.
Bowcock supplied an EPA document that said a Bureau of Land Management report confirmed MTBE in fracking fluid, but the same paragraph in the same document says the EPA has not confirmed the use of MTBE in fracking.
EPA also obtained two environmental impact statements that were prepared by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In these impact statements, BLM identified additional chemical compounds that may be in fracturing fluids including methyl tert butyl ether (MTBE) (U.S. Department of the Interior, CO State BLM, 1998). However, EPA was unable to find any indications in the literature, on MSDSs, or in interviews with service companies that MTBE is used in fracturing fluids to stimulate coal-bed methane wells.
The MTBE issue isn't his main focus, Bowcock said, but resolving the issue for property owners is important to him. Further testing could make the case for the homes to be put on public water -- possibly at the expense of the energy companies (paid for, possibly, as part of a prior environmental settlement).