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Pavillion water probe falls behind schedule

Dec 20, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality was to finish its report on contaminated wells by Sept. 30, 2014, but that appears unlikely.

All aspects of a state investigation into possible groundwater contamination in the Pavillion oil and gas field are behind schedule, officials reported Tuesday. That day, a meeting of a working group composed of stakeholders in the study provided little new information.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is studying production wells and pits in the field, and the Department of Environmental Quality is examining domestic water wells. It seems none of three investigations will meet its original deadline.

One area landowner was critical of the study's slow pace.

"That was one of the criticisms they had of (Environmental Protection Agency), but I think it's slowed considerably since the state took over," John Fenton, of the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens group, said in an interview. "The EPA was doing regular sampling, but that's stopped. It feels like it's going backwards."

The state took over the Pavillion field investigation from the EPA in June. Questions about the Pavillion area's water arose more than seven years ago, when residents complained of a chemical smell in their water.

All three state investigations follow similar steps: analyzing existing data, collecting new information if needed, compiling a draft report, choosing an outside expert to review the draft, having the expert review the draft and finalizing a report.

Deadline extended

DEQ was to finish its water well report by Sept. 30, 2014, according to plans laid out in June.

"I think that date will be pushed out," DEQ director Todd Parfitt said. "I think that expectation of meeting Sept. 30 will be a difficult thing to do."

DEQ's failure to test groundwater in the Pavillion field this fall, as it had planned to, was one factor leading to the delay.

The agency now expects to perform those tests in the spring, said Kevin Frederick, DEQ water quality division administrator. His staff will contact landowners in March about accessing their properties for the sampling, he said.

DEQ also planned to send video cameras down 14 water wells this fall to look for problems in construction and contamination indicators but postponed that piece as well.

"Unfortunately we bumped up against winter early and decided it was probably best to put our plans off for our down-hole video camera work until the spring time," Frederick said.

A web page also is still under development. A Nov. 26 DEQ press release announced the site would be up by Dec. 1.

An address has not been set for the website, but, once it is ready, DEQ plans to put a link to it on the agency's homepage.

Some progress made

The progress DEQ has made includes meeting with the EPA and Encana Oil and Gas to receive existing data, Frederick said. Encana operates many production wells in the Pavillion field.

Encana and a landowner have suggested experts to the DEQ for the review of its report, Frederick said. His staff also has contacted landowners about accessing their properties.

DEQ did send him an agreement to access his land, Fenton said, but he has not seen them do much else.R32;"They really haven't done anything," he said.

A statement DEQ released in November already outlined the data it gathered from other sources and said it was receiving recommendations for experts.

WOGCC's studies also are behind schedule.

A plan Gov. Matt Mead's office laid out in June set a Dec. 30 deadline for finalizing a report on production well bores. WOGCC now expects only to get as far as a draft report by that time.

"The goal is to have something by the end of the calendar year, the next two to three weeks," said Bob King, a consultant to WOGCC.

The commission expects to select an expert to review the draft report by the end of January, WOGCC supervisor Grant Black said. Nine experts have been recommended to it, and WOGCC is to make the final pick with input from the Pavillion working group.

Data has been gathered from the EPA, Encana, and the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes about the 50 well bores under review, King said.

In a November press release, WOGCC said it had received and analyzed all but the tribal information.

Producer's investigation

The study of surface pits is waiting for Encana to finish an investigation at several of the 37 sites the company is investigating, WOGCC natural resources program supervisor Tom Kropatsch said.

"Once we get that information, that should be the information we need to finish the report we're writing," he said.

So far, Encana performed remediation on 15 pits and found 18 did not have any problems to be fixed.

The original due date for the final pit report was also Dec. 30.

Changes in staff also slowed down the pit study, Kropatsch said.

"In the next month or so we should have it ready for internal review and ready for expert review soon after," he said.

The report would be finished in February, Kropatsch said.

A public meeting on the studies is in the works for January, but a specific date has not been set. Organizers expressed interest in having the meeting in Pavillion after a recommendation from several audience members.

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