Power & Water

EPA delays Pavillion review for more groundwater testing

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to postpone an independent peer review of its Pavillion area groundwater contamination investigation until more sampling, testing and analysis is completed.

In a joint statement today Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes said “further sampling of the deep monitoring wells drilled for the Agency’s groundwater study is important to clarify questions about the initial monitoring results.”

Fracking Graphic - ProPublica
This graphic explains the hydraulic fracking process. (Al Granberg/ProPublica — click to enlarge)

The statement goes on to say, “Together with the Tribes, the EPA and the State will convene a group of stakeholders and experts to develop and carry out a plan for further investigation of the Pavillion gas field to identify potential risks to drinking water, including possible sources and pathways for the migration of contaminants. Additional research will be conducted collaboratively using the highest scientific standards and will be subjected to independent peer review.”

The decision comes exactly three months after EPA made public its Pavillion groundwater contamination draft report, and stated that oil and gas activities — including hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” — contributed to tainted groundwater in a rural residential area northeast of Pavillion in central Wyoming.

EnCana Oil & Gas USA, which owns and operates the Pavillion natural gas field, vehemently criticized the EPA’s December 8 draft report stating that it was premature and irresponsible to issue the report, and that the EPA’s testing and sampling methods were flawed.

Wyoming officials leveled the same criticisms at EPA and demanded that EPA release all of its documentation in the investigation. In response, EPA posted in excess of 600 pages of documents on its Pavillion groundwater investigation website.

In response to EPA’s decision Thursday to conduct more testing ahead of an independent peer review, EnCana officials said it confirmed their assertion that the agency’s draft report was flawed.

“We applaud the Governor for his leadership on this important issue,” EnCana said in a prepared statement. “Today’s announcement demonstrates the EPA’s report was rushed without peer review and the assertions aren’t supported by the data. Additional testing should focus on a rigorous evaluation of the taste and odor complaints on each of the domestic wells in question and focus on the chemistry in the domestic water well zone of the subsurface.”

In response, EPA spokesman Richard Mylott issued this statement from the agency; “EPA stands behind the data and conclusions in the draft report. We recognize the value of additional sampling and welcome a rigorous peer review of sampling (data) and our report by independent experts.”

Reached by phone on Thursday, John Fenton, a Pavillion area farmer who suspects his drinking water has been contaminated by oil and gas activity, said he’s satisfied that EPA will continue its investigation in partnership with the state, tribes and other local stakeholders. Fenton told WyoFile that by delaying the independent peer review until further testing is conducted, EPA’s critics won’t be able to claim the investigation was rushed or politically motivated.

“EPA said the work will be done to highest scientific standards and it will go to peer review. That’s what EPA has already been doing here,” said Fenton. “One thing I think it (more testing) may do, is whenever this comes to an end, the state’s not going to be able to say they didn’t have a say in it. … When they finally say, ‘Here’s the results,’ there shouldn’t be anybody bitching that they weren’t included.”

To the latter point, Fenton said the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation had been left out of the investigation process, and he’s grateful to hear that the state and EPA has made them a partner.

“I think if we can get the tribes on there, we’re only going to benefit from that. And I think they have a lot to offer that, quite frankly, has been ignored for too long,” said Fenton.

This week, Gov. Matt Mead signed into law a bill that provides $750,000 to help establish a permanent drinking water source for the rural residents northeast of Pavillion.

— Graphic originally used in the ProPublica article “What Is Hydraulic Fracturing?”

— Visit the EPA’s Pavillion investigation website to download a PDF of the Draft Report, and view project updates.

Related stories:

— EnCana wants fracking expert on EPA’s review panel

— EnCana to EPA: Stop public comment on Pavillion fracking report

— EPA Pavillion report stokes fire over fracking

— Find the source in Pavillion

— EPA finds compound used in fracking in Wyoming aquifer

— One man’s mystery leads to backlash against fracking

Contact Dustin Bleizeffer at (307) 577-6069 or dustin@wyofile.com.

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Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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