Group seeks transparency in water study

2013-07-01T00:15:00Z 2013-07-03T12:48:06Z Group seeks transparency in water studyBy LAURA HANCOCK Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
July 01, 2013 12:15 am  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — A Wyoming conservation group is calling for transparency in and independent oversight of the state’s investigation of groundwater pollution near Pavillion, an investigation partially funded by the operator of the natural gas field in the ara.

“Since Encana Oil and Gas — the company that has the most to gain or lose from the results of this study — is providing funding for this investigation and will have a high level of input, including the ability to recommend third-party experts — it’s going to be crucial that the state involve local landowners and put independent science first, in every phase of this investigation,” Richard Garrett of the Lander-based Wyoming Outdoor Council said in a prepared statement.

On June 20, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it was dropping its investigation into the Pavillion water situation and handing responsibility for further study to Wyoming state agencies. In December 2011, the EPA had released a draft report that tentatively tied hydraulic fracturing to the contamination, the first time the agency publicly linked the two. The ruling was controversial and Gov. Matt Mead called for the investigation to be turned over to the state because he said it was a state issue.

Renny MacKay, Mead’s spokesman, said the state will use some of the $1.5 million grant from Encana for the investigation. MacKay said the exact price tag of the investigation isn’t yet known.

MacKay said the use of Encana money doesn't create a conflict.

“Wyoming appreciates Encana’s support; however, the state and not anybody else will lead the investigation,” he said. “For example, the state will choose the independent experts and retain their services. So Wyoming will lead on this.”

The state investigation will study well bore integrity, waste pits and domestic water wells, according to the governor’s office.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council listed seven bullet points for how the state should conduct the investigation, including employing the best science available; involving local residents, landowners and conservation interests; obtaining independent scientific peer-reviewed results; being transparent and initiating a parallel Wyoming Department of Health investigation of potential human health impacts from the contamination.

MacKay said the governor’s office had previously said it was going to hire independent experts and will release information to the Pavillion Working Group, a body that discusses Pavillion issues and includes some landowners.

“On the transparency issue, the Pavillion Working Group, which has existed for about three years, will continue to meet and offer the public an opportunity to follow this process and offer feedback at public meetings,” he said.

The investigation will have outside review because it will be reviewed by the EPA, the public and independent experts, MacKay said.

To protect public health, MacKay said Mead successfully encouraged the Legislature in 2012 to provide $750,000 for a cistern program to guarantee safe drinking water for Pavillion-area residents.

Encana is a necessary partner in the investigation because it has data that the state will use in the investigation, MacKay said.

“But Wyoming has been clear that Encana’s support will not impact the outcome,” he said.

Doug Hock, a spokesman for Encana Oil and Gas USA Inc., noted that in addition to providing the $1.5 million grant, the company has paid for drinking water for residents in the area. The grant can help curb costs that would otherwise be paid for by taxpayers, he said.

Encana is happy with the course of the investigation that Mead’s office has plotted, Hock said.

“We want good, sound science to come out of this,” he said. “And up to this point, there’s been a lot of investigation. Frankly, most of it has focused on oil and gas and that’s fine as one avenue but it needs be also looking at other possible avenues.”

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