CHEYENNE, Wyo. - The owner of a central Wyoming gas field where federal regulators suggested a link between a drilling technique and groundwater pollution asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to suspend public comment on the draft report.
Gov. Matt Mead, meanwhile, was back in Cheyenne on Monday after making a secret trip to Pavillion last week to talk to locals about their well water.
Encana officials say the EPA hasn't been sufficiently clear about which specific questions and topics the comments from the public, the company and government agencies are supposed to cover.
The company also is seeking more of the data that went into preparing the document and has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get it.
"For us to be able to comment on the draft study to the extent that we want to and feel is appropriate, we need to have the full information and data that we requested. We feel that is very important to us to get a full response," Encana spokesman Doug Hock said.
EPA officials said they were reviewing the letter.
A group representing landowners in the Pavillion area objected to Encana's push to suspend the public comment period amid the company's efforts to fault publicly much of EPA's methodology and draft findings.
"They've beat the drum, they've put out all these comments, they've torn the investigation apart. They've made all the comments that they can make. And now that they've made their comments they want to take away the ability for the citizens to make their comments on this investigation," said John Fenton with the Powder River Basin Resource Council and the group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens.
The public comment period began Dec. 14 and is scheduled to continue through Jan. 27. The company told the EPA's Office of Research and Development in a letter Friday it wanted the public comment period suspended until the agency could specify its request for public comments and provide the additional data.
Encana officials say the EPA hasn't been sufficiently clear about which specific questions and topics the comments from the public, the company and government agencies are supposed to cover. The company also is seeking more of the data that went into preparing the document and has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get it.
At issue is whether hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, contaminated groundwater in the Pavillion gas field in Fremont County.
Fracking involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals into oil and gas wells to fracture rock.
The draft EPA report released Dec. 8 theorized fracking might have been responsible for certain chemicals found in two monitoring wells the EPA drilled to test for pollution in the Pavillion groundwater.
Encana officials would like for the EPA to halt the public comment period on the draft report, respond to the company's concerns, then reopen the comment period, said Hock, the company spokesman.
Pavillion area residents have complained for years that their well water began stinking of chemicals around the time Encana stepped up fracking in their area. The EPA began investigating the problem after what locals have described as an at best tepid response to their concerns on the part of state officials.
Fenton said Mead toured the Pavillion area with locals Thursday on the condition that the news media not be notified in advance.
"We explained to him that he has a very historical opportunity here to stand up for the people of Wyoming, especially the impacted people of Wyoming who are paying the ultimate price for oil and gas being extracted out from under their property," Fenton said.
The only event listed on Mead's public schedule last week was an appearance at the Gillette Rotary Club on Thursday. Mead spokesman Renny MacKay confirmed the governor also was in Pavillion that day.
"Governor Mead wanted to see the area for himself and visit the impacted landowners in person. He felt this was beneficial and he appreciated the time of the citizens who met with him. Not everyone can come to the Capitol for a meeting and Governor Mead meets with a lot of citizens and does not consider them public events," MacKay said by email.