2013 Look Back: EPA abandons Pavillion investigation into fracking and groundwater contamination by Benjamin Storrow, December 23, 2013, Star-Tribune
Where things stand: The state has tasked the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the Department of Environmental Quality with completing the investigation. Coming in 2014: Three reports are due out in 2014: on disposal pits, on well integrity and on domestic water quality.
Jeff Locker remembers the frustration, Jon Martin the elation. Feelings over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to halt its study into groundwater contamination near Pavillion largely split over how one viewed the issued. Those who believed drilling at Encana Corp.’s gas field east of town contaminated the area’s groundwater were generally dismayed. Those who believed some of the area’s groundwater was polluted all along were generally jubilant. Both sides agreed on at least this much: The EPA’s decision was monumental. “Just a lot of frustration there,” is how Locker, a farmer who says his water was contaminated by nearby gas wells, described it recently. “I still have it. It’s still there.” Martin felt differently. He joined the fight over the Pavillion area’s water because he was concerned about the impact the debate was having on his property values. “We were really pleased,” he said. “I was thankful they were finally going to be truthful about their study. There were flaws.”
The EPA’s decision in June to end its investigation represented the culmination of a four-year process. Concerns from citizens living near the gas field prompted the agency to begin groundwater testing in 2009. In December 2011, the EPA released a draft report tentatively linking hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to groundwater contamination.
The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and DEQ will produce a total of three reports on the subject: one on disposal pits at drill sites, another on well integrity, and a third on domestic water quality. State officials set a December deadline for the first two, but they will likely be delayed, said Jerimiah Rieman, a policy advisor to Gov. Matt Mead. An independent expert, who will review the reports, has yet to be hired. The final report on water quality is expected in September, although it too may be delayed because it depends on the completion of the pit and well studies, Rieman said.
“I’m supposed to be a part of the new Pavillion panel, or whatever they’re calling it, but I haven’t heard anything,” said John Fenton, a local farmer and Encana critic, before the group’s December meeting. Fenton is a member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council and chairman of the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens and the Pavillion Working Group. “I don’t know if it’s due to a lack of activity in general, or if my position on the Pavillion group is a figurehead position,” he said. “I can’t say for certain one way or another. I don’t know what is going on.”
Fenton also raised concern over how the study will be paid for. Encana is paying $1.5 million to cover the costs of the investigation. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for Encana to be funding the study,” he said. Doug Hock, an Encana spokesman, said such concerns were understandable, but noted the state did not appropriate money for the study. The company was trying to assist, he said. And ultimately the data will be collected by state officials. “It doesn’t change the data. The investigation continues to go forward,” Hock said. While the state is examining issues including well integrity, he noted, it is also exploring other sources of potential contamination, including agricultural and naturally occurring sources of pollution. “We feel this is the right direction and will continue to work with the state in those efforts,” Hock said. [Emphasis added]
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In testimony in 2007, Encana’s hydrogeologist, Marc Dubord, suggested blame on Rosebud, Alberta citizens with contaminated water wells and farmers. Mr. Dubord suggested blame for the benzene, a carcinogen, in Rosebud’s drinking water on leaking fuel storage tanks. There are no gas stations in Rosebud or surrounding area. Mr. Dubord did not admit that Encana had fractured directly into the community’s drinking water aquifers in secret in 2004 and thereafter injected treatments trying to stop the company’s fresh water production problems after supervisor error compromised wellbore casing
May 8, 2007, Mr. Marc Dubord, Encana Hydrogeologist, testimony to The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development Number 056, 1st Session, 39th Parliament in Ottawa. Marc Dubord was an employee of Encana at the time, for years thereafter and now with Cenovus after it split from Encana in 2009. He testified not admitting he was an employee of Encana, rather representing the lobby group Canadian Society for Unconventional Gas:
With the water well complaints that have been investigated to date, the vast majority related to well construction, maintenance, and use. With respect to contaminants specifically, the most common source for benzene in a water well is an above-ground or leaky fuel storage tank. It’s very rare to see any kind of impact on the shallow groundwater from a CBM well. You just wouldn’t see it; you wouldn’t expect it.
Above screen capture taken from Encana’s 2006 Corporate Responsibility Report
Above screen capture taken from Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada’s 2007 Report