Wyoming will demand water tests before oil and natural gas drilling

2013-11-12T20:00:00Z 2013-11-13T18:22:51Z Wyoming will demand water tests before oil and natural gas drillingBy LAURA HANCOCK Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Tuesday approved a new rule that will require energy companies to test nearby water before drilling oil and natural gas wells.

The rule has been hailed by a Wyoming conservation group as among one of the strongest in the United States. Gov. Matt Mead and

other members of the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission believe the testing will protect companies from unfair allegations of contamination and landowners if water is contaminated.

Industry insists drilling and hydraulic fracturing — the process of pumping water, sand and chemical underground to break open trapped oil and gas — are safe. The proposed rule came after residents outside the central Wyoming town of Pavillion said their water was contaminated as a result of fracking, which the industry denies.

“Gov. Mead, his appointees and staff have shown great leadership in this effort,” said Richard Garrett, energy policy analyst with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, in a prepared statement. “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.”

Starting March 1, industry operators will have to test water quality once before drilling oil and gas wells, a second time 36 to 48 months after drilling and a third time at least 24 months after that.

The rule identifies chemicals, bacteria and other substances that must be tested for in groundwater. The rule also specifies that if there is an increase of substances beyond specified levels, operators must notify the state and property owners.

Groundwater subject to testing is water a half-mile from the oil and gas wellheads found in springs and wells used for domestic, livestock, industrial, municipal or irrigation purposes. If there are more than four water sources within a half mile, the rule allows operators to submit a plan to the Wyoming oil and gas supervisor to choose wells located in a radial pattern around the well.

The rule requires that operators test for dissolved methane. The approved rule set a lower tripwire than the previous version for the tested level of dissolved methane that would require operators to notify the state and landowners of methane’s presence in the water. The change was requested by environmental groups.

Jerimiah Rieman, a policy adviser for the governor and a member of a group that worked on the rule, said dissolved methane can appear in water naturally or be introduced by industry operations.

“The concern is if you have methane in the water, it’s an explosion risk,” he said.

Jon Goldstein of the Environmental Defense Fund said he’s happy the threshold of dissolved methane was lowered. He said that the presence of methane at the lower levels doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem with the water, but it’s a good way to detect a potential problem.

Nitrates will be tested under the rule. John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming industry trade group, was unhappy with that. He said nitrates are associated with agriculture and shouldn’t be tested.

But testing nitrates remains in the rule.

State government staffers did additional research and determined nitrates or nitrate derivatives are occasionally used in drilling, particularly with fracking, Rieman said.

“We know that some industry folks aren’t too keen on it,” Mead said. “We know some environmental folks aren’t too keen on it. The fact is, it’s been a productive opportunity to work through this.”

Mead also said that if there are problems with the rule, the state Oil and Gas Conservation Commission can always amend it.

Robitaille said he’ll hold Mead to that.

“I was interested to get the perspective of the governor,” he said. “If we have a problem we can always come back and revise the rule. So we’ll see.”

Wyoming State Oil and Gas Supervisor Grant Black said he plans to ask the Legislature in the 2014 session for money for another staffer to help implement and enforce the rule. If companies don’t test prior to drilling, they will be denied a drilling permit.

If they don’t test after drilling, “I think it is to be determined,” he said. “I have not studied that yet.”

Reach state reporter Laura Hancock at 307-266-0581 or at laura.hancock@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter: @laurahancock.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. jc45
    Report Abuse
    jc45 - November 13, 2013 10:20 am
    Did you forget to read the article before writing your rant again? The new rules are to protect our most precious natural resource...WATER.
    What does your criticism of Mr. Hendry have to do with the content of the article?
  2. thehousemouse
    Report Abuse
    thehousemouse - November 12, 2013 8:49 pm
    Do you get the idea of rape of our resources yet? we are being sold out. county commissioner ( natrona county) rob hendry ya the so called farm and ranch boy, who has not shoveled XXXX since he was adopted. he does nothing for the boys who really own the ranch. (2) BROTHERS. wyoming chronical: Never mentioned his name. The man wants the governors chair? is he serious? there has never been a governor of wyoming who is not a lawyer or darn close. Were going to put in our highest seat a XXXX kicker who has sold most of the oaths of office so far down for money for himself? then we are seraiously in for what we deserve?
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