CHEYENNE—Federal environmental regulators have passed over Wyoming in a closely watched study of how hydraulic fracturing affects drinking water.
State and industry officials said that not including Wyoming in the study is an acknowledgement by the Environmental Protection Agency that the state’s “fracking” regulations are adequate and that there are no documented cases of fracking activities contaminating groundwater.
Environmentalists, though, voiced skeptism over those claims.
On Thursday, the EPA picked seven areas around the country to investigate whether groundwater is affected by fracking, a procedure in which a mixture of sand and various fluids is pumped deep underground to fracture rock to create pathways for gas or oil to flow toward a well bore.
Critics say that fracking threatens groundwater with harmful chemicals, while the industry insists the procedure has been used safely for decades.
Wyoming’s energy industry, among the largest in the nation, is heavily dependent on fracking for oil and natural gas exploration and drilling operations.
A draft plan of the EPA study, released in February, included Laramie County, Pavillion and the Pinedale Anticline as potential sites to study hydraulic fracturing.
But instead, federal officials picked study areas in Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, and Texas.
Preliminary results of the study are due out next year; final results are expected in 2014.
Tom Doll, superintendent of the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said the decision to not include Wyoming in the study is “a huge statement” by the EPA's Office of Research and Development.
It shows, Doll said, that the EPA acknowledges the WOGCC’s position that there are no documented cases of fracking causing groundwater contamination in Wyoming.
In addition, he said, it’s evidence that the EPA recognizes the adequacy of Wyoming's fracking regulations, approved last year to get out ahead of any federal regulation.
Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said he agreed with Doll’s conclusions and had no problem with Wyoming not being included in the list of study areas.
“I don’t think it makes a bit of difference,” Hinchey said. “They’re going to pick out areas they think they need to look at, and that’s fine.”
But, Steve Jones of the Wyoming Outdoor Council said he “couldn’t imagine” how Wyoming’s regulations would affect the EPA’s decision to not include a Wyoming study site.
Jones said it’s also “misleading” to state that there’s no documented cases of fracking contaminating groundwater in Wyoming. He pointed to Pavillion, where a survey of residents found several people reported polluted drinking water and medical ailments after Encana Oil & Gas began fracking in the area a few years ago.
Encana said the survey was only among a few people and that the EPA hasn’t linked the contamination to gas development. An EPA study is scheduled to be completed next year.
“It’s all a matter of what you consider proof,” Jones said. “If you got mail in your mailbox today, but you never saw the mailman come by, is that still some proof that maybe the mailman did come by and put mail in your mailbox?”