DEQ draft on Pavillion-area water due by August

Jul 10, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The report's conclusions could have an effect beyond Wyoming, as some of the first worries about hydraulic fracturing in the United States arose because of the local investigation.

A draft report on a Department of Environmental Quality investigation into domestic well water near Pavillion is slated for release later this summer.

The study is the final piece of a three-part state study into concerns about groundwater contamination in a natural gas field east of Pavillion.

Wyoming's study was intended to clarify whether concerns about groundwater quality are valid. The report's conclusions could have an effect beyond Wyoming, as some of the first worries about hydraulic fracturing arose in the Pavillion area, and it drew nationwide attention in 2011 when the Environmental Protection Agency announced that a draft report found a tentative link between fracking and bad water.

DEQ plans to release its draft report in late July or August, DEQ groundwater section manager Kevin Frederick said in an interview.

The publication of the draft would start a 30-day public comment period, after which DEQ would finalize the report.

State takeover

DEQ and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission took over the study of possible groundwater contamination near Pavillion in 2013 when EPA announced it was ceasing its investigation and did not plan to finalize its own draft report.

A WOGCC report released in August found no evidence of leaks from natural gas wells and another published in December ruled out some waste-water disposal pits in the Pavillion field as sources of contamination.

Both reports called for further study, however.

DEQ's report was to be the third and final chapter in the state-led investigation. It contracted with outside experts and planned to sample water from 14 domestic wells near gas wells in the Pavillion field twice, one round in June 2014 and one in August 2014.

Reports delayed

Wyoming originally planned to issue its final reports by the end of September 2014. WOGCC and DEQ both encountered delays and deadlines were pushed back.

Delays in the domestic-well study most recently arose during one of the final steps: data validation.

DEQ and contractors took samples, bottles of water, from each of the wells and had labs test them for the presence of various compounds and bacteria. The agency then checked the lab's methods to ensure they followed agreed upon protocols designed to guarantee the results would be accurate.

The lab, for instance, was to maintain samples at certain temperatures, test them within specific time frames and make sure they did not leak, Frederick said.

"They... checked to see that they were actually following the sample methodology or laboratory methods," he said.

The validation process took longer than expected he said, but DEQ's consultants are now working on the draft report.

Federal update

Though WOGCC's conclusions so far were inconclusive and EPA backed off its own findings from Pavillion, the federal agency released a draft report in June offering more definitive conclusions about fracking.

The practice could impact drinking water, the agency wrote, but it has not found much contamination has occurred.

"We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States. Of the potential mechanisms identified in this report, we found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells. The number of identified cases, however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells," the report stated.

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