Water testing cost is worth every penny

2013-11-18T14:55:00Z 2013-12-21T18:05:10Z Water testing cost is worth every pennyBy the Star-Tribune editorial board Casper Star-Tribune Online
November 18, 2013 2:55 pm  • 

It's not perfect. It seems everyone can agree on that.

But the new state rule for testing water near oil and gas wells goes a long way toward protecting everyone involved.

Next up: The state Legislature, which is likely to hear a request from state Oil and Gas Commissioner Grant Black for money to pay for another Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staffer to implement and enforce the rule.

We hope lawmakers welcome the request. The new testing rule is a priority of Gov. Matt Mead and an opportunity to make sure the finger of blame for pollution is pointed toward the offending party -- and to make sure energy companies doing nothing wrong don't get in trouble for something they didn't do.

Starting March 1, operators will be required to test water quality in the vicinity of oil and gas wells before drilling, a second time three to four years after drilling, and then again at least two years later.

Regulators on the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which includes Mead, approved the rule and will oversee its implementation.

Companies will test springs and water wells within a half-mile for oil and gas wellheads. If there are more than four water sources within the half-mile, the companies will submit a testing plan to the state oil and gas supervisor.

The rule specifies which chemicals, bacteria and other substances must be tracked. If there is a spike in test levels, operators are required to notify the state and property owners.

The whole idea is to avoid another Pavillion, where a gas field near the town may or may not have polluted some water wells in the field. It's never been proven one way or the other, and testing to do so hasn't worked out. Meanwhile, Pavillion's become a watchword for anti-drilling activists and risk-averse industry alike. 

Not everyone was happy with the rule, as it made its way through the comment period and onto the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for a decision last week.

There was some discomfort in the environmental community regarding the half-mile testing radius. And oil and gas representatives weren't so keen on a requirement to test nitrates -- what they said came from agriculture and shouldn't be tested, although state researchers disagreed with that conclusion. 

But environmental groups also got a lower tripwire of sorts for notification of dissolved methane levels in water. In a release issued after the commission's Oct. 12 decision, the Wyoming Outdoor Council and the Environmental Defense Fund hailed the commission's rule as a "national standard" and called the required sampling and analysis protocol the most detailed guidance provided by any state regarding sampling of private wells.

Industry groups got a promise from Mead: If the rule isn't working, the commission will look at amending it.

It seems like a fair place to be for the testing rule, and all of those concerned are to be commended for their work on the rule. This rule's creation is a heartening reminder that groups on both sides of an issue can work together to make oil and gas drilling safer for all. 

Now is time for state lawmakers to recognize the rule's importance and prepare to pay for its implementation and enforcement when Black, the state oil and gas supervisor, comes to ask for funding for another staffer.

It's money well spent.

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

(2) Comments

  1. Edge
    Report Abuse
    Edge - November 20, 2013 9:41 am
    Ditto. More fear mongering, more precautionary principle. Water is the 'wedge' issue entering Wyoming right now. Water testing will never be enough, next it's anything perceived to be a problem. What has happened to rational, science based decision making?
  2. SciGee
    Report Abuse
    SciGee - November 20, 2013 6:40 am
    No, this isn't money well spent. Instead, it is a disturbing illustration of how environmental extremists with a political agenda are creeping into Wyoming, and how our political leaders are more concerned with votes than with doing the right thing and following sound science and objective risk-benefit analyses. Bigger government and more regulations based on scare mongering takes advantage of innocent, and low-information voters and editors, and will hurt all of us in Wyoming. That is not something to celebrate. Unless people wake up soon, Wyoming will be fundamentally changed and go the way of its surrounding states.
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