Wyoming approves groundwater testing rule for oil and natural gas

— November 12, 2013

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has approved a baseline groundwater testing rule that many claim is the best in the country. The five-member commission, which includes Gov. Matt Mead, unanimously passed the final rule today in Casper.

Mead praised environmental and industry groups alike for helping shape and vet a baseline groundwater testing strategy intended to provide the data necessary to determine whether oil and gas activity has an impact on groundwater resources. “Unlike the federal government, we will find that if we have not done it right, it is not set in stone. There is (opportunity) for change,” Mead said.

This rig drilled an oil well this past spring north of Edgerton, Wyoming. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)
This rig drilled an oil well this past spring north of Edgerton, Wyoming. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

“I think they just approved the best (groundwater testing) rule in the country,” Jon Goldstein, of the Environmental Defense Fund, told WyoFile.

The Environmental Defense Fund and the Wyoming Outdoor Council issued a joint press release applauding the governor and his administration, stating that Wyoming’s groundwater testing standard “is a model for the nation.”

“Governor Mead, his appointees and staff have shown great leadership in this effort,” said Richard Garrett, energy policy analyst with the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “The governor is right — and just about everyone agrees — collecting baseline water quality data prior to drilling, and following up with post completion sampling, are necessary steps. This rule will help protect everyone: landowners, Wyoming citizens, and industry.”

In an interview with WyoFile, Garrett acknowledged that not everyone in the environmental community is satisfied with the rule. The effectiveness of the rule in protecting groundwater and holding industry accountable for any damage it may cause will depend on implementation. “But if you don’t have a rule in the first place, then you have nothing,” Garrett told WyoFile. “We’re not going to be satisfied if groundwater testing is just checking a box.”

The rule and implementation is tentatively set to go into effect March 1, 2014.

The Environmental Defense Fund and Wyoming Outdoor Council noted that Wyoming’s new rule will be applied statewide. It requires companies use a “radial approach” in sampling wells (testing drinking water sources within a half mile radius of new oil and gas wells) without an artificial cap on the number of wells tested. That includes a required Sampling and Analysis Protocol (SAP) to ensure that procedures and parameters are consistently implemented.

Wyoming’s proposed SAP is currently the most detailed guidance provided by any state regarding how private wells should be sampled, the groups say.

(Click here to download a pdf of an amended version of the rule.)

— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. You can reach him at (307) 267-3327 or email dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer

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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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