Wyoming’s governor and the state’s top environmental and energy regulators say the EPA hasn’t done a good job answering their questions they feel cast doubt on a federal draft report linking hydraulic fracturing to water contamination in Pavillion.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draft report, released Thursday, tentatively ties the oil and gas practice also known as fracking to contamination found in Pavillion water wells — a conclusion celebrated by environmental groups and scorned by the oil and gas industry.
When a state-led group seperately investigating the Pavillion contamination got a look at the report’s underlying data last month, they weren’t satisfied.
Tom Doll, the state’s oil and gas supervisor, said state regulators submitted 4½ pages of questions to the EPA on Nov. 22 — just less than two weeks after they got a first look at the EPA’s raw test data released to the public on Nov. 9.
Of particular concern to state regulators was how the EPA installed and tested two deep monitoring wells that produced data crucial to the draft report’s conclusions.
“We really raised a lot of questions, provided four pages of questions on the monitoring wells: How they were drilled and completed, how they were sampled,” he said. “We posed all those questions to the EPA and haven’t gotten answers back yet on those concerns.”
Richard Mylott, an EPA spokesman, said the agency would consider the state’s questions as part of the public comment process on the draft report.
“We’ve met with the state several times over the past weeks and have addressed many of these questions,” he said. “Additional information related to these questions is in the draft report and the technical information we posted on EPA’s Pavillion website yesterday.”
Contamination found in those wells could be explained by natural causes or by the EPA because of the way it drilled, completed and tested the wells, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission told a state-led Pavillion working group on Nov. 30 in a presentation obtained by the Star-Tribune.
But the data released by the EPA last month didn’t do a good job addressing those uncertainties, according to state officials.
“The first review of the study by the Pavillion Working Group was unable to resolve many of the questions related to the sources of the compounds detected,” said John Corra, director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and a member of the working group, in a statement released by Gov. Matt Mead’s office on Thursday.
Other state agencies, representatives of the American Indian tribes in the Pavillion area and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management all raised similar concerns to the EPA, Mead’s office said in the news release.
Mylott said the EPA has “received a wide range of responses to our data and draft report, from supportive to critical.”
“The public comment period and independent scientific review panel we have initiated reflects our commitment to consider all information and concerns,” he said. “The panel will consider these questions as part of the public comment process.”
In its presentation before the Pavillion working group on Nov. 30, the state oil and gas commission recommended the area get additional geologic study and that further testing and evaluation was needed.
That request mirrors a call by Mead on Dec. 1 for a broader inquiry into Pavillion’s water situation, in partnership with the EPA — something to which the EPA has agreed, Mead said Thursday. Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said the state regulators’ concerns contributed to Mead’s call for a broadened investigation.
Mead has asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to cooperate with the state on its proposed investigation, Mylott said. Jackson agreed to work with the state and made the same commitment to the tribes, he said.
In a Friday press conference, Mead said he’s asked the state Legislature for money to pay for additional testing that would bolster the EPA’s work.
“I think it’s too preliminary with the draft report to jump to conclusions,” Mead said. “However, having said that, it is not too preliminary for us to get in there and do additional testings to make sure of what’s going on. And then once we make sure of what’s taking place there, to take whatever steps we need to in the future so it doesn’t occur again.”