The train wreck of an investigation into water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming will take another lurch forward on Thursday when State officials meet with Pavillion residents to discuss the results of a long-awaited study on the cause of the contamination. Officials say that one study is complete, and another is nearing completion.
It looks like this is going to be messy. From the Casper Star-Tribune report:
State officials intend to allow independent experts to review and comment on the state reports, followed by the EPA and gas field owner Encana.
A Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission consultant will make any necessary changes before the reports are released to the public, said Jeremiah Rieman, energy policy adviser to Gov. Matt Mead.
“We don’t want to be in the position of providing draft conclusions that ultimately may change entirely based on other reviews that need to take place,” (a state official) said Wednesday.
Sounds like everybody’s going to be entitled to his own set of facts. It won’t be the first time. Science, which holds the true answers to how those wells got contaminated, will likely be shouted down.
A wellhead left behind in Paviilion. Casper Star-Tribune photo
We’ve written about Pavillion on a number of occasions. It’s the small Wyoming town about 200 miles due south of Red Lodge where residents are now drinking their water out of cisterns because their underground water source is permanently ruined.
For years Pavillion has been the center of the universe for the battle over whether fracking can contaminate underground aquifers. There’s a lot at stake, and so the issue has become a battleground over what has happened among major industry players — the Environmental Protection Agency, the State of Wyoming, Encana Corporation, the US Congress, and pretty much everyone with an ax to grind.
Meanwhile the residents of Pavillion are drinking water out of plastic jugs.
I’m not optimistic they will get any answers on June 12 when the State shows up to tell them the latest. We should have information on Thursday. I fear it will come in the form of a howl of pain from local residents.
I’ll let you know when I hear it.
Update, June 13. The meeting was held and, as expected, the Pavillion community is exceedingly unhappy.
“I have real reservations about the process that Encana can make corrections,” said landowner John Fenton following a meeting of the Pavillion Working Group Thursday afternoon at the Wind River District 6 Recreation Center. “Especially since Encana granted the state the funds for these studies. I feel like a mushroom here, we’re being kept in the dark. This process isn’t very transparent.”
To refresh your memory, here’s a timeline of events in Pavillion:
1960: First natural gas drilling in the Pavillion area
1990s: Extensive natural gas drilling began in the area. Starting at about the same time, residents began to complain of physical ailments and said their drinking water was black and tasted of chemicals.
2008: EPA begins to study drinking water in Pavillion with the aim of determining whether the water is safe to drink.
August 2009: EPA conducts initial testing of groundwater in Pavillion, and concludes there is a presence of groundwater comtamination
January 2010: The EPA conducted four rounds of sampling, first testing the water from more than 40 homes and later drilling two deep wells to test water from layers of earth that chemicals from farming and old oil and gas waste pits were unlikely to reach.
November 2011: EPA releases the latest data from its monitoring wells in Pavillion at a public meeting. Officials say they will prepare a report on their findings.
December 2011: EPA releases a draft report with analysis of its ground water investigation in Pavillion, Wyoming. According to the report:
EPA’s analysis of samples taken from the Agency’s deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicates detection of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels. Given the area’s complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to ground water contamination, EPA is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time.
December, 2011: Wyoming Governor Matt Mead sends a letter to the EPA, calling on the agency to conduct more testing to determine if there is a link between natural gas development and groundwater contamination. In doing so, he called for cooperative approach between state and federal government investigators but also criticizes the EPA for releasing findings before the peer review process is completed.
March 2012: EPA and the state of Wyoming agree to conduct further tests in Pavillion in an effort to end disputes between over the findings in the December report. The two entities announce that two more rounds of testing will be conducted at monitoring wells that were installed in 2010. The peer-review process for the initial report is also put on hold.
December 2011 – June 2013: EPA comes under attack for their testing methods at Pavillion and becomes concerned that their results would not hold up under peer review. Following public hearings and analysis by other government agencies, the EPA is accused of making some of the same drilling mistakes that they were trying to prevent in industry.
For example, according to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the EPA did not case their monitoring wells correctly. According to the DEQ, EPA drillers, in a contradiction of their own regulatory requirements, did not line their two deep test wells with stainless steel casing Because the casing was carbon steel rather than stainless steel, it was susceptible to corrosion and thereby to affecting the chemical content of groundwater and fluids in the well.
June 2013: The EPA announces it will not make a final report on their findings in Pavillion and says it will turn responsibility for the report over to the state of Wyoming. Wyoming announces that it will accept a $1.5 million grant from Encana Corporation to fund the study. Encana has taken a clear position that the EPA study is invalid.
September 2013: Idaho Dept. of Lands Oil and Gas Program Manager Bobby Johnson, who formerly worked for the groundwater division of the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office, which has taken the lead role in the Pavillion contamination investigation, says in a public meeting that the hydraulic fracturing industry is responsible for the contamination in Pavillion, He pointed to a faulty cement casing in a natural gas well as a key factor in the case, describing EPA data showing pollution was caused “by a bad cement job on an Encana well that was drilled in 1985.”
Listen: Bobby Johnson attributes Pavillion contamination to hydraulic fracturing
February 2014: Johnson recants his comments after a conversation with Grant Black, Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission supervisor, convinced him he was “dead incorrect” to attribute pollution to industry. As John Fenton of Pavillion put it, “It appears that the state has already reached conclusions about the investigation of Pavillion area groundwater contamination before they’ve released findings or even hired experts to review their analysis.”
June 2014: Wyoming officials announce they’ve completed work on one study and plan to meet with Pavillion residents on Thursday, June 12.
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