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State orders water tests before drilling for oil and gas

Nov 14, 2013 - By Mead Gruver, The Associated Press

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission adopted new rules Tuesday that will require companies drilling for oil and gas in the state to first test for pollution in nearby water wells and other water sources.

The goal is to document the condition of groundwater near oil and gas wells. That could help state regulators determine the source of any groundwater pollution that turns up later.

One example of a place where testing might have helped is the Pavillion gas field. Local homeowners and gas field owner Encana Corp. have been disputing for years the cause of foul-smelling well water there.

The five-member commission chaired by Gov. Matt Mead met in Casper. Three years ago, the commission adopted rules that made Wyoming the first state to require companies to disclose the ingredients in the specially formulated fluids they use during hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing is the process of pumping pressurized water, fine sand and chemicals into oil and gas wells to shatter rock and boost the flow of oil and gas.

In a statement, Mead praised the latest rules as similarly pioneering.

'Right balance'

"This is another example of Wyoming leading the nation in striking the right balance between producing needed energy and protecting our natural resources," he said.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council, Petroleum Association of Wyoming and other groups weighed in with their thoughts as the commission was drafting the rules. It posted the latest draft rules last week and made only a few insignificant changes before adopting the final version.

The rules require companies to test water sources within the year before beginning to drill. Companies will then need to conduct follow-up testing starting at least a year after drilling is finished.

Companies must sample water wells and other water sources within a half-mile radius of a planned oil or gas well, or the first of multiple gas wells planned to be drilled from a concentrated location. Up to four such water sources have to be tested.

The tests will need to look for bacteria, hydrocarbons, BTEX compounds, naphthalene, dissolved gases and other substances.

Follow-up

The rules require follow-up testing if dissolved methane exceeds a certain threshold. Follow-up testing will determine if the dissolved methane originates from bacteria or is the same thermogenic, or fossil-fuel, methane companies are drilling for.

The presence of thermogenic methane could indicate a problem with gas targeted for development seeping into groundwater.

Environmental groups, including the Wyoming Outdoor Council, praised the new rules.

"The governor is right -- and just about everyone agrees -- collecting baseline water-quality data prior to drilling, and following up with post-completion sampling, are necessary steps," said Richard Garrett, the council's energy policy analyst.

"This rule will help protect everyone: landowners, Wyoming citizens and industry."

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