John Fenton, right, talked with Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Director Grant Black after Tuesday’s meeting. Fenton is not happy with the slow pace of the state’s investigation. (Ernie Over photo)
(Riverton, Wyo.) – The news from Tuesday’s Pavillion Working Group meeting on the state’s status of compiling and reviewing previously developed data on the East Pavillion water contamination issue, is that there was not much new news.
The two state agencies coordinating the state investigation, Todd Parfitt from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Grant Black of the the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (OGCC), said there were several new members of the team since the last meeting, due to retirements in both agencies. But they also said despite that the process is continuing and several of the promised reports by year’s end are still on track. The studies include reviews of data on well bore integrity, on abandoned surface pits adjacent to the wells, on domestic water wells and the status of cistern installations for 19 landowners who had initially requested them. The domestic water well report will not be completed until this spring, due to irrigation and other issues this past fall that impacted the work.
“This process seems awful slow to me,” said East Pavillion landowner John Fenton and a member of the working group after the nearly two-hour long meeting. “The Cisterns were supposed to be in and now they are talking some time in February. It seems like it’s slowed down a lot from when the EPA was conducting the investigations. I’ve had no communication from the group in months, just a notice of today’s meeting.”
Three of the contaminated water wells in the East Pavillion Gas field are on Fenton’s property.
Likewise, landowner Jeff Locker said he is frustrated with the entire process. Locker also has a contaminated water well. “There was no new information today and I just am skeptical how the state was going to do what the EPA was going to do with just single expert or two when EPA said they would have a group working on it,” he said. “And I’m really upset that Encana has a seat at the table. You can’t help but be skeptical of the end result when the information goes through them.”
Landowners contend that Encana and its predecessors are the cause of the water well contamination through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and other oil and gas recovery methods. An initial nearly two-year-long investigation by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency seemed to support the landowners contention, but after industry and state government expressed doubts over that conclusion, the EPA pulled out of the investigation and turned it over to the state.
The state’s process is to review all the data developed by the EPA, plus other outside data that was not previously studied, and then hire an expert or experts to analyze the information in each of the three major areas of investigation.
The last meeting of the working group was on August 2nd in Riverton and, since that time, the DEQ and OGCC have produced four updates on how they are gathering data from previously created EPA reports plus other sources of already existing data.
“We feel danger, especially for the health of our families and not knowing is hard. Things we say never seem to make its way down to Cheyenne and there doesn’t seem to be any sense of urgency on the state’s part. It was different with the EPA,” Fenton said. “That bothers me.”
The next meeting of the Working Group will most likely be held in March.