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Water study at Pavillion gas field nears

Jun 6, 2014 - By Mead Gruver, The Associated Press

State officials planning to meet with homeowners affected by tainted groundwater in a Fremont County gas field have finished one investigation and are wrapping up another into possible causes of the pollution.

No further details have been released regarding what might have been learned since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency implicated hydraulic fracturing in a 2011 report.

State officials intend to allow independent experts, followed by the EPA and gas field owner Encana, to review and comment on the state reports. 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," Rieman said Wednesday.

He said he would push for the reports to be released "sooner rather than later."

On June 12, state officials plan to meet with residents near Pavillion to discuss the studies and an ongoing program to supply affected homeowners with cisterns and trucked-in household water.

"I hope they have some good, new information," said Deb Thomas of the group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens.

Some residents said their well water turned foul-smelling after gas development began to pick up in their area a decade ago.

In December 2011, the EPA announced that it suspected hydraulic fracturing played a role in tainting the water.

Never before had the federal government blamed a specific case of groundwater contamination on the petroleum industry practice of using a pressurized mix of water, fine sand and chemicals to fracture oil- and gas-bearing rock.

The EPA never finalized the report or circulated it for peer review, however, and last June it handed over its investigation over to Wyoming officials. Now, three state studies of groundwater quality are each three to six months behind schedule.

The oil and gas commission has struggled to find suitable independent experts to review the reports, while the commission has struggled with staffing issues including a leadership change, Rieman said.

One of the state studies examined whether compromised gas well bores could have caused the problem. The state oil and gas commission forwarded a report on that investigation to an independent expert, David K. Dillon, of Centennial, Colorado, a couple weeks ago.

Rieman said he intentionally hasn't read the report before it is finalized and could not comment on any findings.

Commission officials plan to complete a report on a second study in a couple weeks. The commission has not yet chosen an independent expert reviewer for that investigation into whether old petroleum industry waste pits could have leaked pollution, Rieman said.

The two reports initially were due to be completed last December.

Meanwhile, a Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality contractor plans to resample Pavillion-area water wells next week for a third study. Officials expect that report -- initially expected to be done this September -- to be finished this December.

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