Wyoming governor disputes EPA study on fracking, groundwater
Houston (Platts)--22Dec2011/555 pm EST/2255 GMT
The governor of Wyoming called on the Environmental Protection Agency to
participate in additional testing to determine if groundwater contamination
resulted from nearby natural gas development as preliminary results from a
draft EPA study seem to suggest.
In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Wednesday, Governor
Matt Mead called for a cooperative approach between the state and the EPA to
further study the source of the contamination found in two deep monitoring
test wells outside of Pavillion, Wyoming.
"I hope we can work together to move the work surrounding Pavillion
water to a more cooperative, logical and scientific approach," Mead wrote.
"The status, safety and the source of any contaminants to the water supply
are issues I take seriously and I know you do too."
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"Governor Mead asked administrator Jackson to cooperate with the state on
further study and she agreed to work together," EPA spokeswoman Catherine
Milbourn told Platts on Thursday.
Earlier this month the EPA released a draft report on its multi-year
study of the Pavillion water contamination, which concluded that the
groundwater below the tiny central Wyoming town was contaminated by
"compounds likely associated with gas-production practices, including
The conclusion was widely criticized by representatives of the oil and
gas exploration-and-production industry, who have long contended that
hydraulic fracturing has never resulted in any incidence of groundwater
contamination in the approximately 60 years the practice has been in use.
On Tuesday, Encana, the chief operator in Pavillion area, challenged the
EPA's conclusions in a conference call with reporters.
In his letter, Mead criticized the EPA for releasing a conclusion that
draws a connection between groundwater contamination and fracking before the
results of the EPA's study could undergo a planned peer review process and
before additional testing was conducted.
"Somewhere along the line EPA seems to have abandoned a reasonable
approach in favor of an effort resulting in a delay of further sampling and
information development until the completion of the peer review process. This
seems entirely backward," Mead said.
The EPA based its findings on samples taken from drinking water wells in
the Pavillion area as well as two deep monitoring wells that the EPA drilled.
Mead spokesman Renny MacKay told Platts on Thursday that Mead had asked
the state legislature to appropriate money that would go toward additional
testing that the state would conduct in conjunction with the EPA. The amount
of money the state would contribute to the effort would depend on the EPA's
response to the governor's letter, he said.
"Do you need to drill more wells or do you need more testing, in the two
existing test wells?" he asked.
MacKay said the governor thinks that the EPA had left state officials
out of the loop in the process of its investigation. For example, MacKay said
the EPA only revealed the results of its testing from the two deep monitoring
wells to state officials and other interested stakeholders at a meeting of
the Pavillion Working Group last month.
The working group comprises representatives of the EPA, state agencies,
Encana, members of the local community and nearby American Indian tribes.
"There have been so few sampling events," he said. "The governor is
hoping for more cooperation going forward."
In their conference call Tuesday, Encana officials disputed the EPA's
methodology and conclusions.
"Encana strongly disagrees with the EPA's draft conclusions that talk of
a possible link between the Pavillion groundwater chemistry and hydraulic
fracturing operations. We believe the test methodology contained flaws and we
disagree respectfully with the interpretation of the results," said Encana
Vice President John Schopp.
In a statement Thursday, Milbourn defended the agency's study methodology
and its conclusions.
"We believe that the best explanation for the chemical signature seen in
the monitoring wells is the release of hydraulic fracturing fluids into the
aquifer above the production zone," Milbourn said. "The synthetic substances
found in the deep monitoring wells are known to be used in hydraulic
fracturing fluids, are not naturally occurring, and many of them were used in
the Pavillion field."
The draft report, which the EPA released on December 8, is available for
a 45-day public comment period and a 30-day peer-review process led by a
panel of independent scientists, the agency said.
--Jim Magill, firstname.lastname@example.org