Pavillion field: The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the WOGCC are taking over for the EPA

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From the Denver Business Journal (Cathy Proctor):

A controversial draft report from the EPA in December 2011 linked the contamination near Pavilion, Wyo., to nearby oil and gas wells where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, had been used.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead on Thursday said that two of that state’s agencies — the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission — will lead the investigation and evaluate water concerns related to domestic water wells, the integrity of oil and gas wells and historic pits in the Pavilion area.

Encana said it will make a $1.5 million grant to the Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation to help pay for the investigation, and for a statewide information program on best practices and guidelines to protect rural water supplies. Encana also said it would continue to pay for water supplies to some Pavilion residents via funding for Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems.

“We’re pleased EPA has agreed to discontinue its investigation,” said Encana spokesman Doug Hock. “And, we applaud the fact that further efforts in Pavilion will focus on a few specific complaints about perceived changes in domestic water well quality,” Hock said.

Wyoming said it retains the discretion to use Encana’s money for the investigation.

“It is in everyone’s best interest — particularly the citizens who live outside of Pavilion — that Wyoming and the EPA reach an unbiased, scientifically supportable conclusion,” Mead said.

From the Associated Press (Mead Gruver and Ben Neary) via Yahoo! News:

The Northern Arapaho Tribe raised concerns after the agreement was announced Thursday between the EPA, Wyoming and Encana Corp., owner of the Pavillion gas field. The Arapaho and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe both live on the Wind River Reservation, which surrounds the drilling area.

The EPA theorized in 2011 that the petroleum industry practice of hydraulic fracturing may have contaminated the groundwater near the town of Pavillion. The EPA now says it won’t issue a final report or have outside experts review the research as originally planned. Instead, Wyoming will take over the study in Encana’s field of about 125 gas wells, with help from $1.5 million from Encana.

“We went to EPA for help after the state of Wyoming and Encana refused to address the public health impacts of unbridled development in the Pavillion area,” said John Fenton, chairman of the group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens. “Now Encana has bought their way back in and is working with the state on a strategy to cover up the mess they’ve created. Our government’s priority is clearly to protect industry rather than Wyoming citizens, our health and our property values.”

Gov. Matt Mead said Friday he has been talking with affected residents and understands their suspicion. But he said the EPA has recognized that Wyoming is best positioned to act. “I think it’s right that they are concerned, and I think it’s even appropriate that they are skeptical,” Mead said in a phone interview. “And I think it’s up to the state in leading this investigation to do it in a way that addresses their concerns.”

Here’s the release from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead’s office (Renny MacKay):

Wyoming to Lead Further Investigation of Water Quality Concerns Outside of Pavillion with Support of EPA

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The State of Wyoming is announcing that it will further investigate drinking water quality in the rural area east of Pavillion, Wyoming. This will be done with the support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC) will lead the scientific investigation and will seek to address water quality concerns by evaluating the water quality of certain domestic water wells, the integrity of certain oil and gas wells, and historic pits in the Pavillion area. The State of Wyoming intends to conclude its investigation and release a final report by September 30, 2014. The State’s investigation seeks to clarify water quality concerns and assess the need for any further action to protect drinking water resources. Wyoming will continue its work to assure residents have a clean source of drinking water available.

“It is in everyone’s best interest – particularly the citizens who live outside of Pavillion – that Wyoming and the EPA reach an unbiased, scientifically supportable conclusion,” Governor Matt Mead said. “I commend the EPA and Encana for working with me to chart a positive course for this investigation. I commit that Wyoming will work in a thoughtful and productive manner as further investigation is initiated.”

In 2009, at the request of citizens living outside of Pavillion who reported objectionable taste and odor in their well water, EPA began working with the State of Wyoming and the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes to identify the source and extent of impacts on domestic well water quality. To date, after five phases of sampling, EPA’s domestic water well sampling results have documented constituents of concern; however a source of those constituents has not been determined. EPA efforts to evaluate potential migration pathways from deeper gas production zones to shallower domestic water wells in the Pavillion gas field are inconclusive.

Wyoming, through the WOGCC and the WDEQ will conduct a comprehensive review of all relevant data and initiate an additional science-based investigation. The sampling data obtained throughout EPA’s groundwater investigation will be considered in Wyoming’s further investigation. The WOGCC and WDEQ will retain the services of an independent expert or experts to assist staff with the reviews, investigations, analyses and preparation of final reports. EPA and Encana Oil and Gas (USA) Inc. will have the opportunity to provide input to the State of Wyoming and recommend third-party experts for the State’s consideration.

While EPA stands behind its work and data, the agency recognizes the State of Wyoming’s commitment for further investigation and efforts to provide clean water and does not plan to finalize or seek peer review of its draft Pavillion groundwater report released in December, 2011. Nor does the agency plan to rely upon the conclusions in the draft report. EPA is conducting a major research program on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water in different areas of the country and will release a draft report in late 2014. EPA will look to the results of that national program as the basis for its scientific conclusions and recommendations on hydraulic fracturing.

“In light of this announcement, we believe that EPA’s focus going forward should be on using our resources to support Wyoming’s efforts, which will build on EPA’s monitoring results,” said EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. “We applaud the leadership of Wyoming in conducting further investigation and assuring safe water and look forward to partnering with the State as it conducts its investigation.”

“Encana has chosen to make a grant in the amount of $1.5 million to the Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation to be used for further investigation by the State of Wyoming and for a statewide education and awareness program through the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts related to best practices and permitting guidelines for the benefit of Wyoming’s citizens and industries in conjunction with initiatives that support and protect rural water supplies,” stated Jeff Wojahn, President of Encana Oil and Gas (USA) Inc. “The Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts, among other things, provides leadership for the conservation of Wyoming’s soil and water resources and also promotes the wise use of Wyoming’s water. Additionally, Encana will continue to provide interim funding to the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems, an independent entity that has been providing water for certain Pavillion residents.”

Wyoming retains the discretion to allocate the grant from Encana to the Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation to support the State’s efforts as the next phase of this investigation is initiated. “Wyoming and Encana understand the importance of water in this state and I am pleased to see their continued commitment to the scientific investigation and to provide interim funding for water to the residents while that investigation progresses,” Governor Mead said.

In 2012 Governor Mead and the Wyoming Legislature appropriated $750,000 for the design, construction and installation of residential cistern systems and a water loading station in the Town of Pavillion. Installation of 20 cisterns and the water loading station should be finished soon. There will be other opportunities for residents who live outside of Pavillion and have not yet requested a cistern to do so. Wyoming will work with residents to identify acceptable means of providing water to their rural homes for years to come. Wyoming will continue to strive to meet one of its highest priorities – finding solutions to drinking water concerns.

As part of the State’s investigation, fourteen domestic water wells located in the Pavillion oil and natural gas field will be further evaluated for water quality and palatability concerns. The WOGCC will also prepare a report concerning the status and reclamation of historic production pits in the Pavillion Field. In addition, WOGCC will prepare a report concerning the integrity of all oil and natural gas exploration and production wells within 1320 feet of the fourteen domestic water wells identified for further investigation.

The WDEQ will evaluate the data, conclusions and recommendations contained in the WOGCC’s well bore integrity and pits final reports. In its review the WDEQ will consider all relevant data for each of the fourteen domestic water wells. The WDEQ will then conduct two rounds of sampling of some or all of the fourteen domestic water wells. The WDEQ will determine if further investigation, including additional sampling, is necessary using exceedances of EPA primary and secondary contaminant levels and WDEQ Water Quality Rules and Regulations as a trigger.

Activities in the Pavillion gas field highlight several considerations including the importance of collecting baseline water quality data and proper water quality information and education. Wyoming has initiated a process for establishing a uniform regulation for the collection of baseline water quality data prior to and after oil and natural gas development.

Additional Pavillion Analysis and Testing – Investigation Document

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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