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July 18, 2013
EPA ends Pavillion fracking investigation

The EPA has handed the reins of its controversial Pavillion, Wyoming, drinking water study to the state of Wyoming and will not finalize its own draft report, which appeared to link hydraulic fracturing of gas resources in the area to concerns about the safety of drinking water.  The announcement follows 18 months of bickering between energy companies and their advocates and those who believe that hydraulic fracturing of gas wells poses a risk to groundwater quality. 

12 wells

Located in Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation, Pavillion has a population of under 200.  Gas drilling has been occurring in the area since 1960.  The assets are now owned by Encana Oil and Gas Company, which drilled its last well in the area in 2007.  About 125 wells now produce about 10 million cubic feet of natural gas per day. 

In 2009, residents outside the town complained to the EPA that their well water had an objectionable taste and odor.  Following an investigation, in December 2011, the Agency released a draft report stating that groundwater and well samples collected by the Agency indicated the presence of compounds likely associated with gas production practices, including hydraulic fracturing.  The EPA now says that it stands behind its work and data but will neither finalize its draft report nor rely on the draft data.

“EPA efforts to evaluate potential migration pathways from deeper gas production zones to shallower domestic water wells in the Pavillion gas field are inconclusive,” the Agency states. 

State report in late 2014

The state investigation into Pavillion’s water quality will be handled by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC).  The work will focus on certain domestic water wells, the integrity of certain oil and gas wells, and historic pits in the Pavillion area.  The state agencies will conclude their investigation and issue a final report by September 30, 2014.  The EPA says it will support the effort.

The EPA also announced that Encana will provide a $1.5 million grant to the Wyoming Natural Resources Foundation to aid the state investigation as well as a statewide education and awareness program addressing best practices and permitting guidelines.

Lawmakers welcome shift

According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), EPA’s announcement constitutes an acknowledgment that the Agency’s water testing results from Pavillion were flawed.  The API adds that technical reports released by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) showed that USGS groundwater sampling results contradicted EPA’s results and that EPA’s monitoring wells developed for the testing were not suitable for groundwater quality assessment.

The Agency’s decision to terminate its study was also welcomed by Wyoming’s two Republican U.S. Senators, Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, as well as Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).  Rep. Lummis heads the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee and in April 2013, co-chaired a hearing in which she called on the EPA to abandon the Pavillion report.  The three lawmakers were unanimous in stating that any investigation into Wyoming’s water quality is best overseen by the state itself.

Meanwhile, the EPA said it 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.

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