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State outlines plans for more water study in Pavillion vicinity

Aug 16, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

If chemicals from oil and gas in the water exceed state and federal standards, Wyoming will investigate drilling activities in the area.

Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality and Oil and Gas Conservation Commission are planning a three-part study of potential groundwater contamination near Pavillion.

The state took over the investigation from the federal Environmental Protection Agency in June.R32;Questions about the Pavillion area's water arose more than seven years ago, when residents complained of a chemical smell in their water. A hydraulic fracturing operation was ongoing nearby, but the EPA's efforts to find potential pathways from deeper areas where gas is extracted to shallower areas tapped by domestic water wells were inconclusive, according to reports.

The issue concerns wells outside the town limits. Pavillion's municipal water system is not contaminated.

In 2011, the EPA publicly linked fracking with groundwater contamination in the area, but Wyoming officials reportedly have been skeptical that hydraulic fracturing played a role in water pollution in Pavillion.

Encana Oil and Gas operates many of the oil and natural gas wells in the Pavillion field.

Well bore, pits

Plans call for the WOGCC to make one report on well bore integrity and one on reclaimed pits in the Pavillion-area oil and natural gas field by the end of 2013.

Well bores are the holes drilled to extract oil or gas, while the reclaimed pits are used to store waste water from fracking.

The WOGCC will examine all of those well bores within 1,320 feet of the 14 water wells in question in the Pavillion area. The focus will be to see if the construction of the holes would protect those water wells.

The WOGCC also will investigate all pits within 1,320 feet of the 14 water wells to see if the waste water was stored in a way that would protect water sources.

The EPA and Encana will recommend experts for the WOGCC to hire to help in the investigation, and both entities will be able to comment on the final reports before the documents are published.

Water wells

The WDEQ is to finish a study of domestic water wells near Pavillion by Sept. 30, 2014.

The DEQ study will examine data from previous analyses of the 14 wells in the Pavillion field to see if contaminants exceed EPA standards. The agency will ask for more, pertinent information from the State Engineer's Office, WOGCC, EPA, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes, and drill operators.

After reviewing available data, the DEQ could decide it needs more information about some locations and decide to take new samples from those wells.

Standards used in taking and testing the new samples will follow mostly state guidelines. The plan states DEQ would compare the results to both national and state standards, and if chemicals from oil and gas in the water exceed those standards, the state agency will investigate drilling activities and continue with additional testing.

The plan calls for the DEQ to bring in outside experts in hydrogeology, geochemistry and toxicology who have no ties to the state, EPA or Encana to help with the study. The EPA and Encana will be able to recommend scientists for the investigation, according to the plan.

The EPA and Encana also will review a draft of the final report and comment on it before the document is published.

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